"All Creatures Great and Small"
"Babes in Smallville"
"The Ballad of Trish and Henry"
"Bobby and Hank say 'Farewell, New York' and Other Things"
"Bobby and the Beast"
"Bobby's Casserole"
"Bobby vs. Pat Sajak"
"A Certain Face"
"Confounded Computer!"
"A Day at the Races"
"A Day in the Life"
"Dispensing the Shopping"
"The Early X-Men in Studio 54"
"First, Do No Harm"
"For Remembrance"
"From the Dais with the Closed Coffin"
"The Good of the Many"
"Gunslinger Dreams"
"Heard No More"
"A Homely Touch"
"I Do Not Love Thee, Mr. Twinkie"
"The Lecture"
"Longest Night"
"Love Is Just Another 4-Letter Word"
"Magic Breakfast"
"Making the Call"
"Midnight Twinkie Run"
"Miss April's Stars & Garters"
"The Morning Paper"
"Neon Hearts"
"The No Story"
"Not a Creature Was Stirring"
"The Oath"
"Personal Delivery"
"Point Blank"
"The Power-Whup Girls"
"The Price of Coffee"
"Pygmalion's Silence"
"Rumble in Kitchen Stadium"
"The Shadow Inside"
"The Shi'ar Coffee Story"
"Shoot Me"
"A Friend, Sleeping"
"A Small Addiction"
"Some Assembly Required"
"Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Someone Blue"
"Start Spreading the News"
"Such Sweet Sorrow"
"Tale of the Last Twinkie"
"Never Mess with a Furry Blue Genius"
"The TD2001"
"Tear Sheets"
"A Test of Power"
"Tripping into the Light Fantastic"
"Twenty First Century Guy"
"When in Rome"
"When Tomorrow Comes"
"Written from Purgatory"
"The Wyoming Pie"
"X-Men #75"
"Yummy Yellow White Surprise"
"Zero Degree Celsius"

DISCLAIMER: This is an unauthorized work of fiction using characters that are (c) & TM by Marvel Comics Group and DC Comics (cf. the notes at the end). No profit is being made. The story is (c) Tilman Stieve (Menshevik@aol.com). You can download this and copy it for your entertainment, but don't sell it for profit, or Marvel will set their lawyers on you. Please do not archive this on your website without informing me first.
Introductory Note: The story before you is set in the timeline of my "Tales of the Twilight Menshevik," which diverges from Marvel's main timeline after X-Men (2nd series) #3. You can find the other Tales archived on "Fonts of Wisdom," on "Down-Home Charm" and on "Queen of Hearts." I hope this story can be understood on its own, but there is no avoiding the fact that it continues plotlines from The Time the Twain Shall Meet, Lights in the Dark and Between the Woods and Frozen Lake, so it may help to read those before or after this one.
Thanks to Alec Wire for his help with some the Washington, DC, background.

Something Old, Something Blue, Something Borrowed, Someone Blue


It was dark when Jimmy Miller, Sandy McReekie, and Stan Learoyd left the George Washington Inn deep in an enthusiastic, if slurred, conversation about the upcoming football match. They were the first to spot the alien intruders in their town.

Seeing the assembly of bizarre creatures, no two of whom looked alike they stopped dead in their tracks.

The leader, a huge, ungainly, sky-blue-skinned humanoid was talking to a skinny reptilian that sat perched on the big one's shoulder: "Botheration. Why could our employer not provide us with a facsimile of our quarry's psychic aura? Any sign of paraform activity in the vicinity, lizard?"

"Snee -- nothing, mother. Maybe cloaked they are?"

"How inconvenient. I guess there's no way around it, we'll have to make enquiries among the indigenous population. And for the last time: Don't call me 'mother'!"

"Yes, mother."

"Oh, if you weren't so indispensable!" the exasperated mercenary leader hissed through clenched teeth. She then turned towards the trio of natives who were staring at her with bulging eyes: "Salutations, small and, er, lightly intoxicated sentients. I am Gatecrasher. My Technet and I seek information about the whereabouts of... Stop them, you imbeciles!"

The three revellers had, not surprisingly, taken flight, but they did not get far.

"Scatterbrain, don't touch him before we have a chance to... now tell me how am I supposed to question him after you fired up all his neural synapses?!" Sandy slumped to ground from the elf-like alien's grasp, his face locked in an expression that some would call angelic, but most, demented. "Thug, no fisticuffs!"

But it was too late. The stocky little green-skinned humanoid had already hit unlucky Jim. The impact of the fist at the end of his ape-like long right arm propelled him into a collision with Thug's team-mate Joyboy, whose power was to grant a person a twisted version of their fondest desire.

"Blix!" Joyboy exclaimed. Even some of his comrades had to gasp at the result.


"Who thought have would that this is what anyone to be would want?"

Gatecrasher threw up her hands at having the second local on hand made incapable of being interrogated, while Thug stomped off muttering: "I'm never allowed t'have any fun!" Gatecrasher was about to hit him, when another of her agents, Ferro2, a russet-furred, four-armed swordsman, led the hapless Stan Learoyd before her. Gatecrasher breathed deeply to recapture her calm. Then she put on a broad smile and produced her authority, in the shape of a psychecom crystal.

Bright light-rays issued from the crystal and built up a holographic image of a regally beautiful woman before dumbstruck Stan. She had spectacular, long, almost white hair that obscured her right eye. She was dressed in a flowing white dress and a matching ankle-length cape, both decorated with huge jewels: "I am Opal Luna Saturnyne," she spoke, "Omniversal Mastrex, arbiter of causality responsible for this sector of creation. Gatecrasher's Technet are my duly authorized agents, responsible for the apprehension of a group of unauthorised interdimensional travellers, two of whom are known as Hawk and Dove. They are believed to be currently based in the town of Washington on, Sol III, the planet Earth-616, possibly with a group of paraforms called X-Factor..."

Gatecrasher turned off the recording in disgust as Stan fainted and fell over on his face. "Perfect," she said, "just wonderful." She turned her glare on her motley crew. "So, dear Technet, if you could get your minds on the task at hand, then perhaps in spite of this less than auspicious start it will be possible to bring this commission to a satisfactory conclusion. Right, if we now could please get on with it, starting with finding some more suitable subjects for providing us with information..."

As the group walked off into the distance, the moon broke through the clouds. Its light shone on a sign by the road. It read:


I: The Gathering

Washington -- Meggan already was in the kitchen and at the stove when Kurt and Mandy wheeled Errol in. Her preternatural senses and her experience told her how long it would take for his parents to make their way into the kitchen. Kurt looked a bit bleary-eyed, but he had an excuse: His seven-month old son had woken him and Amanda two hours earlier for his breakfast. Now the blue-furred little baby sat in his pram looking as if he could not disturb a fly, and only made soft burbling noises from time to time.

Pretty much like every morning, Meggan was exuding cheerfulness as she prepared the porridge, fried breakfast, toast, tea and coffee for the various inhabitants of Ravenscliff Head, the World War 2 Coastal Command airfield near Southport that had become Excalibur's base two years ago. And as usual, she was already half-finished with her task when Rahne, the other resident compulsive helper joined her.

"Och Meggan, ye should'nae have started afore me. Ever since the wee bairn arrived, ye've been lettin' the others take advantage o' yer guid nature. Doin' all the work..."

"But I don't do all the work, Rahne. You help every morning, and Brian sets the table in the evening before he goes to sleep."

"An' how long does that take? Twae minutes? Ah well..." Rahne resigned to the fact that there soon was nothing left for her to do, and turned her attentions to the baby before sitting down at the table with Kurt and Amanda.

Next to show up was Rachel, whose face brightened at Meggan's melodious voice wishing her a good morning. As usual, she only ate a small bowl of cereals -- her Phoenix metabolism simply worked in different ways; for Rachel the important thing about breakfast was her friends' company, not nutrition.

Kitty and Pete arrived with Lockheed in tow when most of the others were half done, and by the time Brian entered, the first plates were being deposited in the dish-washer. The conversation was as bright as the morning sun, and to a large extent revolved around the impending trip to New York.

"Found your good tie, Pete?"

"Packed enough diapers for Errol, Kurt?"

"Pete, love, could you take a look at 15 across?"

"Anyone who hasn't seen Moira's email yet?"

"Sorry, Kit, I'm stumped on that one. Are you sure that 9 down is 'Emma Peel'?"

"Could someone please pass the sugar?"


"Lockheed, ah dinna think Brian wants his bacon tha' crisp."

"Do you know if they'll bring Irene along for the festivities?"

"Methinks I see the real reason why Fuzzy is looking forward so much to this trip. Yes, last I've heard, Val will be taking her along. But Mystique probably won't make it -- X-Factor are on a mission in the Southwest."

"What, Bristol?"

"No, silly, Arizona. Kurt, could you help me with 15 across?"

"Let me see. Hmmm. No, can't think of anything that fits."

"Brian? Care to have a look?"

"Sorry, not this early in the morning."

"Ye call this early?!"

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. Let me see. 'Michael's two-way racecourse?' What is that supposed to be? Oh, but Kitty, look at 3 down. We spell it c-e-n-t-r-e here."

"Damn that Noah Webster! Let's see, that also changes... Ah! now I get it! 'Palin-drome'."

Peter in the meantime had gone outside for his first cigarette after breakfast, his third in all, today. For him the most annoying aspect of the birth of Kurt and Amanda's son was that suddenly everyone had shamelessly taken advantage of the situation to gang up on him and ban him from smoking indoors (except in his own room, with the bedroom he shared with Kitty a grey area). But the weather being nice, he did not grumble quite as much as he did on other days.

Not long after breakfast, Professor Alistaire Stuart, who had volunteered to water the plants and look after the communications room during Excalibur's absence, arrived. "I still don't quite understand why you all have to go," he said, "I mean it is not as if you even know Dr. McCoy and Miss Tilby all that well..."

"True enough," Kurt had to concede, "but even so, the X-Men and 'related' teams like Excalibur tend to look on each other as one extended family. So even though most of us really have little or no common history with Hank, and some of us haven't even been X-Men, we have a certain, er, how do you say Wahlverwandtschaft in English?"

"Elective familial relationship?"

"Sounds horrible. You sure there's nothing that sounds less complicated? Anyway, so it's on occasions like this that 'Xavier's children' gather from all over the world."

"Sort of like a mutant jamboree."

"So Kurt thinks this is a great opportunity to show off Errol to his old pals," Mandy added with an indulgent smile. "And Kitty gets to show off her boyfriend to those who weren't at the winter holidays last years, Rachel gets to see her family -- or at least their near-equivalents from our timeline -- and Rahne sees a few of her old pals from her days with the New Mutants and X-Factor."

"And this time, thanks to you, Brian and Meggan have no excuse not to go," added Kitty. Looking at them, Alistaire could see that Meggan clearly was much more excited to go on the trip than her husband, but then it is next to impossible for any human being to muster up as much enthusiasm as Meggan.

Shortly afterwards, those who by force of habit had put on their costumes for breakfast changed into light travelling gear and the nine humans and one dragon boarded the Midnight Runner. Alistaire waved them goodbye as the plane taxied onto the runway and took off.

Within seconds, they were over the Irish Sea, rapidly gaining height and approaching the cruise speed for the Atlantic crossing. As was his wont when he was on board, Kurt had insisted that he man the controls. Kitty sat beside him in the co-pilot's seat, with Lockheed on her shoulder, reading a comic-book Kurt had brought back from his last visit to Germany. "Hahahaha, that Frau Kleinschrott, she really cracks me up!"

Behind them, the others were passing the time in different ways. Brian and Rachel listened to Meggan who was happily singing folk songs and snatches of tunes she had picked up from the radio. Amanda was chatting with Rahne, and Pete was reading a Len Deighton, snorting derisively from time to time.

The Midnight Runner was flying faster than a Concorde, but it still was at its most efficient, not its maximum speed. Within a few hours, they would be arriving in Salem Center.

Val Cooper's Diary Thursday 10/1/98, mostly sunny: Normal morning jobs, all in all a quiet day (most of official Washington away for the weekend), with an interim report from the team in AZ. The framed A.L. photograph arrived shortly before I left for Henry McC's wedding in NYC w/ Irene & Guido. We were picked up at JFK by Robert D. driving one of CFX's limousines. The drive to the mansion did not take too long. Ren and Sal are staying at X-Factor HQ, looking after their kids. -- Much of the afternoon was taken up w/ introductions: TT's parents and younger sister Martha (a NP Ranger), various other guests who are here either for the wedding and/or today's merrymaking. Because the ceremony is held at Avengers Mansion, those who for various reasons can't or don't want to appear in the news cannot go there & are only here for the bachelor & bachelorette parties. (There will be a post-honeymoon get-together with the newlyweds for them in 4 weeks though). -- Left Irene in the care of young Angelo Espinosa to go to the bachelorette party in a back-room in a local tavern. Quite enjoyable. Except for Valkyrie, I think I must have been the oldest woman attending. And good for being with some people again whom I hadn't seen for quite a while. Rep.mem. One of the things that is safe to jot down is that Amanda, Charlotte & I did a little skit about TT joining the sisterhood of women with blue life-partners that Amanda had written. Thankfully E.B. (Archangel's ex) took it in good spirits.

The big black Rolls-Royce turned from Graymalkin Lane and slowed down to a full stop before the front gate of the Xavier estate. Bobby Drake, the driver, rolled down the window to speak into the intercom while a battery of cameras and scanners discreetly examined him and his three passengers. The iron gates swung open, and the limousine rolled onto the long drive to the mansion.

The car halted before the portico and Bobby rushed out to open the doors. Valerie lifted her daughter out of her infant seat and set her down on the ground on one side while Guido squeezed out with some difficulty on the other.
The groom was standing at the front door to welcome the guests: "Salutations, my friends. It's good to see you. Pity the others are unavoidably detained." He crouched down to Irene who smiled at him. As Nightcrawler's little sister she was all in favor of blue fur.

"Hi, Hank," Val said as he rose again to shake her hand, "all ready for the big day tomorrow?"

"Indeed I am, most gracious Valerie. So, would you, Irene and Guido care to adjourn inside? I'm positive Robert is up to carrying your luggage upstairs."

They walked past the main staircase into the formal sitting room. Inside, other wedding guests were getting acquainted with each other. The Beast's parents and the elder Tilbys (an architect and a physiotherapist from Duluth) had not met before and were cheerfully comparing notes on the childhood exploits and misadventures of their children. Valerie was glad to spot her foster daughter Rogue among the gaggle of guests. She had not seen her since spring, when the X-Men had gone semi-public.

Although the X-Men had not announced to the world where they were based, they had decided to make themselves more accessible by more frequently giving press releases and interviews to the media, by setting up a website and by establishing an indirect link to certain government agencies via the Avengers hotline. But at the same time, those X-Men who could not expect official sanction or would not want it moved out of the mansion to operate in a more clandestine fashion from various bases across the hemisphere. To the world this new group, the Meddlers, had disassociated itself from the X-Men, but in fact there still was quite a bit of cooperation between the two groups. The Meddlers' modus operandi however made it more difficult for Valerie Cooper to meet their members, including Rogue and her lover, Magneto, in person. As soon as she could without seeming rude to the bride and groom and their families, she walked over to her. "Hello, Rogue. It's been a while..."

"Hi, ... Val," the younger woman replied with a smile, "on reflection, ah think ah'd better not call you 'dad' just now."
Valerie grinned. "Yes, you'd better not. Are you going to spend the night here, or won't I be seeing you after the party?"

"Oh, ah'll be stayin' the night at the lodge. Magnus 'n' me still use that when we're here. So maybe we can talk all about fam'ly stuff later? Oh, this is Trish's sister Martha, by the way." The tall, slim suntanned brunette beside Rogue gave Valerie a toothy smile.

"Hello Martha, and this Rogue's little sister Irene," said Val, indicating her daughter.

"Hi Irene, aren't you the pretty one!" Martha dropped to her knees before the two-year-old girl and gently stroked her cheek. "Strawberry blond and sky blue really go well together."

As they watched Irene and Martha, Valerie and Rogue conversed in low tones. Val was a little uneasy: "I'm afraid your momma and I quarreled a bit yesterday."

"It won't have been the first time either..."

"No, it wasn't anything really serious," Val hastened to answer Rogue's unspoken question. "I got mad at her because she was glad about certain people she did not have to see because she is now kept away from all this, and now I'm kicking myself for not making up with her before the plane took off."

"And now you worry even more'n usual 'bout something might happen to her." Rogue knew the feeling, even if in her relationship there was not quite as much potential for friction as there sometimes seemed to be between her strong-willed and temperamental foster-parents. "She'll be fine. Raven knows how to look after herself."

Rahne Sinclair and Sam Guthrie entered the room from the patio at the back. Rahne had been so glad to see her former New Mutants teammate that she had 'abducted' him for a walk in the garden where they could bring each other up to date. Now at their return it seemed almost as if they had not been an ocean apart for several years.

Rachel stood alone in a far corner of the sitting room while Brian, Meggan and Amanda were chatting with Charles Xavier and Quicksilver, Archangel's partner in the current Avengers/X-Men exchange. Kurt was meanwhile laughing it up with Bobby Drake and Pietro's former teammate Guido, X-Factor's Strong Guy. Logan and Pete were comparing notes by the fireplace and Kitty had been drawn into the parents' circle. With such a confusing multitude of guests in the room, it seemed best to the McCoys and the Tilbys to have that nice Ms. Pryde on hand to confirm who was who and to which team they belonged.

Jean Grey entered the room from the library and, after greeting the new arrivals, soon went out into the garden with Rachel, the daughter of her counterpart in another timeline. The crisis of the Summers marriage had sent tongues wagging in all the X-teams; now Jean was at last ready to answer all questions the young woman might pose. But it would be done in private.

Those left behind continued with the general talk and gossip that invariably accompanies such meetings. But a quarter of an hour later the conviviality was dampened by a call for Nightcrawler to come to the communications room. When he returned, he called out for all the other members of Excalibur to assemble in the library.

"There's an emergency, my friends," he announced. "The Technet has reappeared, and they've taken over a town in northeast England. Brian, is there really a Washington near Sunderland?" Captain Britain nodded. "Well, it also seems that the other Euro-teams are tied up at the moment," Kurt scratched the back of his head, "and they say we have the most experience with Gatecrasher's crowd, so could we please come back to Britain and sort it all out?"

This elicited a general chorus of groans and protests from the team. But in the end, after a short, heated discussion Excalibur -- except for Amanda and Errol -- had to depart for England anyway. Everyone gave their apologies to the bride, groom and other guests and got into the monorail to the underground hangars to board the Midnight Runner . Seeing how dejected Rahne was at having to leave so soon, Cannonball joined them at the last moment. One thing was sure: The Technet was going to be sorry that it had spoiled Excalibur's trip to America.

II: The Parties


ALL THREE: Blue is the color of the bridegroom fair
MANDY: Blue is the color of my true love's hair
CHARLOTTE: Blue is the color of my true love's skin
VALERIE: Blue is the color of my love's true skin

(To the tune of 'Sergeant Pepper')
We're sisters with a thing about the color blue,
We hope you will enjoy this show,
The skins of all our lovers they are of this hue,
Sit back and let the evening go,
Sisters with blue lovers,
Sisters with blue lovers,
Sisters with blue lovers welcome you!
We're Charlotte, Val and Mandy,
Our lives are never drab,
Since Betsy's left our motley crew,
It would be nice if Trish could join
As long as she won't blab.

(To the tune of 'In the Navy')
We want you,
We want you,
We want you as a new recruit!

Kurt's my foster brother,
Then became my lover,
Which made some people go "Eeeww!"

Warren looks angelic,
Cuter than Tom Selleck,
But watch his roving eyes so blue.

Raven is a schemer,
Fooled this blond-haired dreamer,
Changed sexes on me for a screw.

Now Patricia Tilby
Says that Hank's bride she'll be
And Henry's a blue mutant too...
With blue mutants
Oh the sex is really great!
Those blue mutants
All your appetites they'll sate!
With blue mutants
There just ain't no boring date!
With blue mutants,
With blue mutants
Never choose a light green dress!
With blue mutants
You're a feast for all the press!
With blue mutants
You gotta learn to handle stress!
With blue mutants,
With blue mutants,
With blue mutants.

We want you,
We want you,
We want you as a new recruit!

(To the tune of 'Stand by your man')
Sometimes it's hard to be Trish Tilby,
Hangin' out for hours with Hank McCoy,
For all his knowledge,
Long words from college,
Beneath it all, he's still a boy.

Stand by your Hank
Give him a bod to cuddle,
He's got the fur to snuggle
To keep you warm and cosy.
Stand by your Hank
You'll put up with his shedding
And have a super we-he-he-hedding,
Stand by your Hank!


Warren and Bobby had arranged for Hank McCoy's bachelor party to be at the Coffee A-Go-Go, the retro-beat Greenwich Village café that had been their hangout back in their teenage years. It was a place full of memories from the early days of Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Children, when the original five X-Men had tended to end up there pretty much every time they went to Manhattan to get over their 'Salem Center Cabin Fever'.

Apart from the obvious X-Men and other X-team guests, there was a contingent from the Avengers, most notably Captain America, Hawkeye and Thor, and even Daimon Hellstrom from the now defunct Defenders. Some were of course notable by their absence, such as Gambit and Magneto (who for different reasons though it more politic not to come) and the male members of X-Factor (apart from Strong Guy) and Excalibur, who were away on missions.

Bishop, who was standing by the door, cordially welcomed Puck and Northstar, whom he had first met in June, when Alpha Flight and the Meddlers had joined forces to combat the self-styled Master of the World and the Upstarts. At the far end of the room, Sunspot was deep in conversation with Quicksilver. Roberto Da Costa just started to take a small sip from his glass when Pietro -- who as usual was growing impatient with having to listen to the other's small talk at the snail's crawl that others call normal speed -- disappeared for an instant, running across the room to say 'hi' to the Canadians and then return to Sunspot's side before Roberto could put the glass down again. 'Show-off', thought the young Brazilian.

Soon the guests split up into informal groups that sat together and began to attack the drinks as they waited for things to start. At last, Robert Drake climbed up onto a chair and lifted an ice megaphone to his lips:

"Gentlemen, welcome to the Coffee A-Go-Go and to Hank McCoy's bachelor party. Warren and I hope you will all enjoy yourself. The buffet next door is now open, so you all can load up with food before returning here for the entertainment. In half an hour we'll start with Hank's roas--, er, with the tributes to the blushing bridegroom from his teammates and compeers, and then we'll be showing the lost episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000..."

"That's the one with 'Showgirls'," Warren interjected, garnering a mixed reception of laughter, dismissive disbelief and one or two gasps. "Hey, none of the lady X-Men volunteered to do a striptease, and we couldn't hire a pro because of the Meddlers here, so it's the next best thing, we thought." Groans greeted that explanation.

"And we thought Gina Gershon would be great to play Trish if the story of our two lovebirds ever becomes a made-for-TV movie," chirped up Bobby.

After the laughter had subsided, the guests filed to the buffet table. Scott Summers noticed Wolverine standing away from him. He wanted to approach him, but unfortunately Hawkeye accosted him to draw him into his conversation with Captain America. The two Avengers were checking off their mental list of absentees. "And I still say," Hawkeye insisted, "there is something fishy about Herc crying off at the last moment. He ain't the guy to miss a party."

Meanwhile, Warren nervously asked Bobby: "What's keeping the band?"

"Don't worry, she's a pro. Lila said she and the others will 'port in at ten, that's what they'll do."

"Unless slimy aliens try to abduct her again, of course."

"Of course." Now Iceman was feeling a bit apprehensive.


In the back room at Harry's Hideout, the evening progressed to the more convivial part, now that the food, song and dance, and the handing over of presents had been gotten over with. Hank's old Defender comrade, the Valkyrie, walked down to the corner table where Rogue and the She-Hulk sat, bearing a large tankard. "I must say I'm surprised they have mead in a bar like this," she said.

Rogue could explain: "A few years back, we and' our juniors had a run-in with Loki, where we went to Asgard. Dani an' some o' the guys developed a taste for the stuff, and Harry started to stock it, seein' we're some of his best customers an' all..."

Valerie Cooper was glad to wind up next to Ororo. They had not had a chance to talk properly since Christmas. And ever since Forge officially broke off with Storm, she had wanted to extend her sympathies in person. Ororo thanked politely, and when Valerie asked how she felt, answered with a quiet smile: "I am well. Really. You don't have to worry about getting soaked in a sudden downpour tonight."

"Any new romantic developments?" Valerie asked. "The others will be extremely mad at me if I can't supply them with the latest gossip."

"No, you can tell them I'm still available." Ororo's smile changed to a grin for an instant.

"Not even a wisp of a romance with Bishop? A few of our boys are laying heavy odds that you and him would get together now that Forge is out of the picture." Valerie was not agreeing with them judging by her expression.

"I can well imagine," Storm mused, "and I can imagine their reasons -- I'm the goddess, he's the X-worshipper, we should make a great couple!" Valerie nodded in slight embarrassment. Random had voiced something very much like that 'diagnosis', only in far less complimentary terms. "For a time we were interested in being interested," Ororo went on, "but it did not work out. In any case, his hero-worshipping somewhat tapered off after he started living with us and experiencing us on a daily basis, warts and all."

"So what are you looking for now?"

"Not a worshipper, at any rate." Storm smiled self-ironically. "I guess everyone who fits my specifications is either a villain, taken, or just not interested in me."

"Your problem is you just haven't met the right woman yet."

Storm had to chuckle at Val's corny joke. "Oh, if the choice of sexual preference was enough to ensure your happiness! But even you and Raven have your bad days..."

"Is it that obvious?" Val sighed. "Yes, I'm afraid Raven and I had a silly argument before the team took off yesterday. Guess I'm still distracted..."

"Yes, I know what you mean." Touched by Val's candor, she returned to the previous subject: "Actually, strictly between you and me..." Their eyes met. This would not be for general X-Factor consumption. "... after what happened earlier this year I would not even discount the possibility that I might walk down a path similar to yours, Valerie. I got over the worst phase after the break-up because a woman offered me her love to give me solace. I'll always be grateful to her for that, but she's not my Ms. Right."

Valerie blue eyes signaled gratitude for being taken into Storm's confidence, but also an unspoken 'Why?'

"She might be if I'd be prepared to share her with others, but that is not the kind of person I am. Not that I begrudge her her other relationship..."

As Val sympathetically pressed Storm's hand, Ororo thought back to that week in Tokyo. Dear Yukio. She had loved her as a friend for as long as she knew her, admired her wild spirit and her sleek and well-trained body. At first glance it seemed so frail, but Anyone who crossed her and made the mistake of taken that surface appearance of fragility was in for a nasty shock. It would be like taking what appeared to be a china doll and trying to break it by hurling it down on a table -- and then discovering that the figure actually was made of enameled steel when it smashed through the table-top. This side of her Ororo had known for long. But when Yukio had seen how deep in the dumps her friend had been after the break-up, she had shown her another side of her, and for a time the two had been more than friends.

Pity that it could not remain that way, pity that it could never work out. Yukio would always remain Logan's woman, she refused to be bothered that there were other women in his life that were as or more important to him than she was. Ororo herself could not visualize herself in a similar position, and she also was not sure how Logan would react; he did not mind Yukio's affairs and romances (he was hardly in a position to complain), but how would he react to something permanent? Ororo counted Logan and Yukio among her closest friends, but she was afraid that if she had continued her romantic interlude she probably would have wound up trying to win Yukio all for herself, and in the end no longer be friends with him or her.

Elsewhere, three Avengers were chatting together, including the only male in the room. The Scarlet Witch was a bit flustered because of her teammate's performance a quarter of an hour ago:

"Hercules, I'm surprised at you. Performing as a stripper at Trish Tilby's bachelorette party? Isn't that beneath your dignity or something?"

"Nay, gentle Wanda, 'twas curiosity that got the better of the Prince of Power. I finally wanted to discover what you damsels get up to on the eve of nuptials. So when the fair Janet offered me this opportunity, how could I have gainsaid her?"

"But still, stripping... that would have embarrassed me no end, especially with the kind of audience reaction you got..."

"But thou must remember whence I come. Thou knowest I did institute the original Olympic Games, and there all the athletes were nude. Let me tell ye, fair ones, we had to bar women from watching, lest they all fell victim to the sight of my undraped body, left their spouses and flocked to me."

"Suuurre," Jan grinned, "and they just happened to stick to that rule when you no longer attended the Games yourself because they didn't know any better."

"Thou hast it in one. They could not, for the priests had told me it would not have been good for the mortal men's self-esteem had I mentioned the real reason for the ban on feminine watchers. Alas, I had to promise them to keep it a secret, though it vexed me much, for it is well-known that if there is one thing Hercules cannot abide, it is the merest deviation from the truth." His face looked deeply troubled, but the effect was somewhat diminished by his rascally wink.

"Well, you do have the body of a demigod, there's no denying that," Wanda said, "and you definitely made an impression on a lot of the ladies tonight."

As Hercules strutted off, the Wasp and Wanda exchanged significant looks and grins; but they managed to keep their laughter inside.

Hercules approached the bar, which at that time was in the care of a young brunette.

"Hi, pleased to meetcha! I'm Trish's bratty baby sister Martha, but you can call me my dear. Or maybe you aren't a fan of the Beatles... But where are my manners? What's your poison?"

"A large goblet of retsina would serve me well, What dost do for a living, fair lady?"

"I'm a National Park Ranger, handsome, er, demigod. I show people the glories of this great land of ours, tell them to clear up their garbage after themselves, and watch out that they don't fall off the cliffs. If you ever come to Mesa Verde, I'll be the one who makes the uniform look good!"

"Thou enjoyest spending thy time in Gaea's and Demeter's domain? That doth sound lovely, if a trifle too quiet for the son of Zeus. For me t'would but do as a rest 'tween adventures."

Martha took a moment to work it out. "Sorry, my Greek mythology is a little rusty, I mostly have to do with Anasazi and Hopi and Navajo stuff. I know more about Coyote than about Centaurs, I'm afraid."

"Ah, Coyote. Now there's a spirit who knows how to enjoy himself. A bit like my half-brother Hermes. Let me tell thee about the time..."

Not far away, the bride-to-be was leaning on the edge of the dinner-table and amiably chatting with Emma Frost. They did not know each other all that well -- the school's connection to the X-Men was a closely guarded secret which Trish Tilby carefully kept out of her stories -- but as part of the wider 'X-family' they shared a connection, even if they only had met a handful of times before tonight. And now Emma, who had started to take more of a personal interest in Trish's wedding after Bobby Drake had agreed to be the best man, was making up for lost time, quizzing the bride about her biography and about details of tomorrow's ceremony which she would not be attending in person.

At the bar, Charlotte Jones and Betsy Braddock were sitting side by side, sipping their drinks. For the sake of privacy, the were conversing telepathically. The reason was obvious: Warren Worthington. Their expressions betrayed that their conversation was a serious one. Unlike the one further along the bar, where Hercules was laughing that infectious, raucous laugh of his: "And for a week after that, Hermes walked with a limp!"

III: Two Interludes

Charles Francis Xavier was too old to be invited to the bachelor party, and the bride's and groom's parents were going out to Broadway together, to get better acquainted. For a time he could relax, only looking in telepathically from time to time on Angelo Espinosa, who was baby-sitting on Irene and Errol.

He seized the opportunity to invite Magneto for a quiet conversation over some wine and cheese. He knew Magnus was nearby, and as a fraction of his telepathic powers had slowly returned since the Onslaught it proved feasible to contact him from mind to mind.

At last the Master of Magnetism entered the wood-paneled quarters. "Welcome back, old friend," said Charles Xavier, indicating the leather upholstered chair nearest to his wheelchair. "Help yourself to some Brie. I hope you'll like this cheeky Australian Chardonnay?"

Magnus had to smile. "You really know how to live, Charles." He himself could enjoy a comfortable and sophisticated lifestyle, but it was not something to which he had grown up, unlike Charles, the scion of a family that had lived in this place when New York was still Nieuw Amsterdam and that had been rich for almost as long. Magneto's own family, back in Lithuania, had been well off once, but nothing approaching this, and after he had gone through the hell of Auschwitz and the post-war famines in Eastern Europe, his personal lifestyle had become distinctly Spartan, almost ascetic, which was all the more noticeable because he normally had enough money to indulge in a few creature comforts. That had really only changed when he and Rogue moved together, but even now their life was middle-class, petit-bourgeois even, compared to Charles's seigniorial habits in his ancestral mansion.

"It's a pity you won't be attending the wedding," ventured Charles.

"Well, it really was no longer an option after they decided to hold it in Avengers Mansion. Besides, I'm sure most of them will enjoy themselves more when they don't have to be nice to me. And I'm older than you, so why should I go to Henry McCoy's stag night if you don't?" The white-haired ex-villain made light of it, but Charles sensed that beneath it all it rankled that most of the original X-Men still only accepted him as an ally, but not as a friend.

"You'll have to give them time," Charles said. "You and they have too many bad things to remember about each other, and too few good things. And of course some of them and most notably you are not exactly renowned for your interpersonal skills."

"No, I'm not," Magnus admitted with a rueful smile, "and maybe my reluctance to be among people is the real reason why I prefer to watch the festivities from afar."

Professor X frowned a little: "At least you're no longer quite as bad as back in Israel, when you even felt hemmed in when David Shomron joined Gaby, you and me. Well, you should be a useful ace in the hole if something like the unpleasantness at the Wasp's wedding happens." The first wedding at Avengers had been crashed by the Circus of Crime. "You probably would have made more progress if we hadn't split up the team this year."

"That couldn't be helped," Magneto said, raising his glass, "in any case, here's to the lovely couple."


As noiselessly as I can, I make my way towards Spuyten Dyvil Cove until the boathouse comes into view. The lights are on, so I carefully climb up a tree to get a better view. I take out my binoculars and look in the nursery window through the thick leaves. Jeannie is inside, changing her baby's diapers and getting her ready for bedtime.

*You can come in if you want,* I hear her 'voice' in my skull. My ninja skills and mental discipline can't hide me totally from a telepath, especially a scrapper like Jean Grey Summers. Now that she's become a mother, she'll always guard her little Abigail like a lioness. *Besides, you can't totally disguise the emotional surges you get when I'm nearby.*

Sheepishly, I slip down the tree and walk the rest of the way to the boathouse. She awaits me in the doorway, the kid in her arm. "Howdy, Red," I say, trying to act cool, "lookin' good, as always."

"Hullo, Logan." She motions me to come in with her free hand. "I was expecting you'd come, in any case. Scott told me you left the bachelor party early. So early that he didn't have a chance to talk to you." Is that a note of misgiving in her voice? I couldn't get along with her husband even before our affair, how does she expect me to behave?

"Thought he'd prefer it that way. I could tell he was suspectin'... about us."

"More than suspecting, Logan."

"So you told him. I kinda expected you might. You two are back together, and you think it's for good." It is a statement. With my enhanced senses I do not have to ask.

"Yes." She leads me down to the nursery. Jeannie gently lays down Abigail (what will they end up calling her? Abby? Gail?) in the cot. "Do you know any good lullabies, Logan?"

"Jeannie, please don't make me do this..."

"C'mon, you must have done it before, with Illyana, at least, ... and did you never put Amiko to bed?"

"Once or twice. But 'miko's more the bedtime story type. An' if this little rugrat's anything like her dad, she'll only get angry when I try to sing." I have a hunch, might as well provide Jeannie with an opening to come out with it. And she does, quietly speaking, with her eyes downcast:

"Why should she mind hearing her father's voice?"

Might as well do it. In a low voice, I sing a song that Amiko once sang for Mariko and me, not actually a lullaby, but kind of soothing. I don't bother with maintaining my psychic shields at that moment, Jean knows how I feel. She places a hand on my shoulder and joins in.

She kisses the kid good-night. I do so too, but the little tyke does not seem to like the way I smell. Maybe she'll learn to like beer and cigars when she grows up. (My daughter!) Jeannie winds up the music-box in the fluffy duck and hangs it in the cot, and then we tip-toe out of the room. We retire to the kitchen.

"I suppose Scott knows about that as well?" My voice is gruffer than I intend it to be.

She nods: "He can put two and two together, and he knew that he couldn't possibly have been Abby's father."

"Which is more than I knew. Whyn't ya tell me, Red? For the better part of a year I've been thinkin' 'maybe it's Cyke's kid after all.'" It would not have been the first time that a couple cemented their reconciliation by making a baby. She said 'couldn't possibly have been the father', so I guess they took a long while to start having sex with each other again. But obviously that's changed too -- I caught a whiff of the smells from their bedroom.

"I'm sorry Logan. It was wrong of me but..." This comes hard to her, and part of me is glad. "It must've happened on our last night together, the night we broke it off. I did not find out I was pregnant until weeks later, after Scott and I resolved to make a fresh start. And after our last talk, I thought or hoped that it was over between us for good and that that was what you wanted. Especially as you soon left with Rogue's team, and I didn't see you again without others being present." I stay silent. *But that was wrong,* she continues telepathically. *I could tell when I saw you through Scott's eyes at the bachelor party, and from the flashes of your emotions now. I thought that you would've preferred not to know that Abigail is your daughter, but there were selfish motives for me to believe that. Can you forgive me?*

When the Grey/Summers marriage hit the skids after Scott suddenly decided to feel guilty about the death of his first wife, Madelyne Pryor, Jean turned to me more support and consolation. For a couple of months we used to meet on the sly almost every other day, and I didn't take long to react to her somewhat clumsy advances. I'd been carrying a torch for Red ever since I first took a proper look at her. But it didn't work out, and we decided to call it quits just not long after Thanksgiving. I then told myself that after we actually had sex, my yearning for her would have been satisfied and would not return. But that turned out to be a mistake.

*It wasn't just sexual for you, and it wasn't for me. You gave me something that Scott couldn't give me, then. I wanted that so much, I dragged you into our troubles, and in the end it made me feel bad about myself, and you it made unhappy.*

'Don't beat yourself up over this, Red,' I think, lowering my psychic shields. 'I was eager for you. If you hadn't made it clear that you wanted me, I reckon I'd've hit on you soon enough. We both had our fun, and though ya didn't exactly hurry to tell me that the kid is ours, you told me now, that's the main thing. Of course, had you told me earlier I'd have had a chance to vote for a different name. Not that I mind her bein' called Abigail...'

*There really is no way to resolve this matter that is not wrong in some way, but I want our affair to stay over. I know you've never much liked Scott, but he is the one I've loved since I was a teenager. The one I promised to have and to hold until death us do part, and for all that happened last year, I'm determined to keep my vows from now on. As is Scott. Even when he was cheating on me with Betsy, even, I'm ashamed to admit, when I took you as my lover, I was always convinced that I would win him back.*

Cyke would love to hear that. I am reminded of the psi-link he and Jeannie share. 'Is Scott listening in to this?'

*No. Unless you want him to be involved, he won't be. We're no longer linked all or even most of the time -- being in permanent telepathic contact was one of the things that put such a stress on our marriage. It made Scott feel inhibited a lot of the time, worrying about what I would think about his unguarded thoughts. In this case he may secretly wish we still were linked, but I asked him to trust me, and he said yes, even though he knows that there is something in my nature that will always feel drawn to you, and that there are things that you could give to a lover that he could not. And I will honor his trust.*

I'm unsurprised, but it still smarts that Jeannie confirms my expectations. "On the whole," I say, "I'd rather not have Scott involved right now, Jeannie. Not until we've talked this out." In my mind I knew that she never was mine with all her heart, but it is no consolation that she admits that there is a small corner of her heart that doesn't belong to Scott. It's funny, there have always been women in my life -- Yukio, Tyger, -- who gave me their love though they knew I was pledged to Mariko or obsessed with Jean. May as well finally accept it that this is where I stand with Jean. "And how does Scott feel about Abby if he knows she ain't really his daughter?"

"He loves her. She's my daughter, that is the thing that matters to him."

I'm tempted to say that maybe it's because he remembers how good a mother Jeannie has been to Maddy's son Nathan, but that isn't it. Once he came out of his depression, Jean very likely again became the woman who could do no wrong for Scott. That much, at least, we have in common. "So, what are you plannin' on doin' about me in the future? Stop seein' me at all to avoid temptation?"

"You think I won't be strong enough to resist your attraction for long? Or is that what you hope?"

No, I know you. As long as Scott doesn't give up on ya, you won't even think o' leavin' him or of gettin' involved with another man. Cyke won't make that mistake twice. And you to have confronted your ghosts, you know where ya stand with each other. Then I speak: "No, Red, yer moment of weakness is over. Reckon the events of the past cured you two of yer illusions about yerself and each other, high time fer me t' stop dreamin' and face up t' reality. But that still leaves the question: What do we do now?"

"I want us to remain friends. I want you and Scott to make your peace. I... want you to take a part in raising Abigail. I want us to handle this like adults."

I snort derisively: "Ain't no adults I know who would handle this sort of situation without a lot of screamin' and shoutin'. Outside movies and television, that is, but I definitely ain't the David Schwimmer type. Hell, not even Scott is."

Despite herself, Jean has to chuckle at that remark. "Scott will be so relieved you said that." She gives me her let's-be-sensible look. "Okay, so I want us to behave better than average adults. There's nothing wrong with aiming high. Besides, we don't get together that often..."

"...now that I'm no longer based in the mansion." It is at moments like this that I remember why I fell in love with her in the first place -- she's a hopeless idealist, but she can also be thoroughly pragmatic when she thinks of ways of making her ideals a reality. I guess we could give it a shot, but would it be the best thing for us? And would it be what I want? "Jean, this is something that I'm gonna need time for." Do I want Abby to know I'm her father? Scott in all likelihood may actually turn out to be a better father to her. Do I want Abby's parentage to become general knowledge in the X-teams?

In the end, Jean acquiesces to my request for more time. She embraces me as I leave, but no kiss. I wish you the best, Jeannie, hope you and Scott manage to reassemble your 'storybook' marriage. And hopefully it won't be too long till I make up my mind whether to do the sensible thing and stay away, or to follow my heart's desire and do what Jeannie asked me to, so I'll be able to be with her and with our daughter, even if it'll keep the pain alive.

IV: After the Ball Was Over

The bachelor party broke up before midnight. The Beast shared a cab to Avengers Mansion with Captain America. Iceman, who had just seen off Lila and her band, was about to head for the nearest subway station, when Puck called after him. "Have you seen Jean-Paul anywhere? I'd thought we were going to our hotel together."

"No, not for about an hour," Bobby said, scratching his head, "I think he must've left around the same time Logan and Bish left."

"I figure they thought this party was too 'civilized'," interjected Hawkeye on his way out. "Well, it's been fun. Seeya tomorrow!"

Scott did not go home immediately. He was pretty sure why Logan had left early, and even before the party was over, Jean contacted him telepathically, asking him to let her speak with Logan alone first. So he buttonholed Warren and they went on to another bar down the road. As Warren was with the Avengers now, it would be good to keep each other up to date.

There was still an element of tension between the two old friends because of Scott's affair with Betsy, but they were getting over it. In effect, the recent events had made them both more aware of their fallibility and weaknesses. Warren could not harbor a personal grudge against Scott because of his affair, for he himself had been only too ready to use it as the occasion to break up with Elizabeth.

"You know, Scotty," he said after they settled in a snug, "I sometimes feel bad about that. But Betsy and me talked it over, and we agreed that if we had been as much in love with each other as we thought in the first flush of passion, for want of a better word, she wouldn't have..., you know, and I wouldn't have gotten back together with Charlotte so quickly."

"Just look at us, we really are the poster boys for domestic bliss, aren't we?" Scott scratched his head. "It's a wonder Hank and Trish are willing to give it a go after seeing what happened with us..."

"Well, your marriage is be on an even keel again," Warren mused, "and you look a lot more self-assured than before I transferred to the Avengers. At least in your case counseling seems to have worked. Still, I don't know if I had trusted her alone with Logan tonight. You know she still feels something for the Canadian."

"I do. But I also know she'll do the right thing by Logan and me." Scott pensively took a swig from his beer-glass and stared into the distance reflecting on the awkwardness of their situation. "One day Logan and I will speak to each other again. He avoided me today, but some day... We have to work this out, if not for ourselves, for the good of the team."

"That really is the downside of getting romancing a teammate," said Warren, and Scott was not entirely sure if he was making light of it or not, "you got to continue living together and depending on each other afterwards even if you break up."


The ladies' party, too, came to an end before the new day began. Amanda decided it was still early enough for a visit to Magik's room to see what progress she made in her studies of the craft. Charlotte gave Trish a lift back to Manhattan, while a lot of the others split up into small groups that either stayed in different parts of Harry's Hideout or went to other establishments in Salem Center.

The field leaders of the X-Men and the Meddlers went home together. Storm accompanied Rogue home to her lodge, and as the night was still warm enough ("I have nothing to do with it," protested Ororo), they decided to walk and talk. But when they reached the edge of the Xavier estate, they noticed a figure waiting in the dark near the gate. The glowing tip of his cigarette brightened to a shining orange with each inhalation.

"Rémy, this is a surprise," exclaimed Storm. "They told me you weren't coming to the bachelor party."

"Non, chère," said the Louisianan Meddler, "Magnus tole me t' keep an eye on t'ings. Il est chez le professeur," he went on to explain to Rogue.

"Hmm, ah'm sure you two have a lot of stuff t' catch up on," said Rogue,. "It was nice to see y'all off-duty, as it were," she told Ororo, hugging her to her, "hope it won't take too long till the next time, Ororo. Seeya tomorrow, Rémy!" And with that, Rogue set off to the Mansion.

Storm and Gambit watched her disappear into the darkness, and then went off to a quiet space in the gardens. Ororo had long waited for this moment. About a year before, Gambit had finally decided to come clean to his teammates about his previous association with Mr. Sinister, after Rogue had accidentally found out. But he had been filled with such dread about this, that he could not do it face to face, and had gone off on a lone quest after depositing a message on Storm's doorstep. It had come as a shock to her, partly because of the revelation of what Gambit had done, and partly because in spite of their close friendship he had not told her in person.

"I suppose you got my letter," Rémy began with no little awkwardness, but wanting to get to the heart of the matter without any more prevarication.


I been avoiding this for way too long. Rogue's been trying to get me to muster up the courage to come clean to all of you, but it's no use. Tried to tell you this after noon, but chickened out at the last moment when you set out to visit the Morlock graveyard. I can't bear the thought of seeing the pain this will cause you. So I'm leaving, can't tell you where, and pray that Persephone is right to be confident that you'll still accept me when you know what I did. It concerns Sinister, the Marauders and the Morlocks. Rogue knows the rest, she'll now have to tell you everything. Wish there had been an other way, but I don't trust myself in this, I just know that I'll feel cornered and say the wrong things, try to rationalize, to make excuses for what I did. I hope that we can get together again when the hurt is less, but I'll understand if you hate me.
Au revoir, I pray,


Ororo nodded silently, and motioned for him to walk with her to a nearby clump of trees. He tossed away his cigarette butt and followed.

"Yes, I did," she finally said, then added, with a faint smile, "I carried it with me for months, until I heard you went joined the Meddlers. Rogue told me about what you had left out, as you asked her to." She paused for a moment. "Seeing how hard she took living with your memories for a relatively short while, I can imagine what it must have been like for you. Having to live with the knowledge of what... happened, but not being able to confide in anyone."

She turned towards him and took his hand in both of hers: "But I'm so happy you returned." Gambit's relief was unmistakable. Ororo had introduced him to the X-Men and for a long time been his closest friend (as close as he would let anyone come to him) until he had begun to court his fellow Southerner Rogue.

When they reached the dark shadow of the trees (a group of maples, as it turned out), he lit up another cigarette. Ororo wanted to know: "How did you cope, Rémy?"

"Well, mem'ry is a funny t'ing, it can be very malleable. At least on the surface. Sometimes you r'member what you want t' b'lieve when the trut' is too ugly to face. Rogue could tell you 'bout that. When she an' I kissed an' she absorbed my mem'ries, she saw my dreams as well as the real mem'ries."

"But what Rogue told me is the truth?"

"Yes. We foun' out about dat problem immediately..."


"{What could possibly have been so valuable that it justified getting into bed with Sinister?}" Rogue had asked him in the Bayou patois of her youth. "{What was in that little capsule?}"

"Quelle capsule, chère?" Somehow it had been easier to discuss the awkward questions in French. "{I got a suitcase full o' cash from Essex, no cap--} ah, mon Dieu! {I remember, that was from my dreams!}"

"Tes rêves? Mais comment...?"

"{If I were a shrink, I'd probably say that my subconscious rebelled. It was something about it not having much of a material worth but being very valuable to me,} n'est-ce pas?"

"Ouais, c'est vrai."

"{When I gathered the Marauders for Sinister, and even when he put me into Sabretooth's squad, I thought we would be going into a kind of gang war, not butcher innocent children. I had my eyes firmly on the money and did not wake up to reality until the horror began...}"

"{And then you tried to stop them?}"

"{For all the good that still did. I was so dazed and unfocused that Creed took me out in a matter of seconds before I had a chance to even slow his squad down. All I could do was carry a little girl out of harm's way when I later came to.}"

"{You tried, that's the main thing.}

"{Later, I saw to it that she found some foster parents and that my blood-money got to the surviving Morlocks that I could find. But once that was accomplished, I fell into the dumps. For a time I simply could not handle what had happened; I had to repress the memories to keep on functioning. I wished for some things to have been different, that I hadn't actually hurt any of the Morlock guards. Or that I wouldn't have got involved with a group of mass-murderers for mere money no matter how much. I had these fantasies which sometimes entered my dreams, for instance that mysterious capsule that Sinister gave me in payment -- I still have no idea what I wanted to be in it. What could Sinister possibly have that it would be so valuable that it justified what I did for him? I guess subconsciously you too wanted to rather believe them and so you treated the real memories of the events as a nightmare and the wishful dreams as the truth.}"

"{Yes, and I didn't even wonder about Belle's supposed death that was supposed to have put you in a more vulnerable state of mind...}"

"{For me it went from bad to worse. For months I lived in complete denial. You know what I was like when I joined the X-Men.}"

"{It was not exactly the behavior you typically associate with someone overcome with remorse. So you were so confident, fun-loving and upbeat all the time because...}"

"{I had locked away the memory of my involvement in a recess of my mind. It only dawned on me again, slowly, as I became a different man for being with the X-Men, as I discovered a new purpose, fell in love with you, chère, and wanted it to be more than a casual affair. And of course after Sabretooth roused the old ghosts.}"

"{And then you started to spend so much time on the roof, moping. Because you were too scared to come clean about it to me and the others.}"

"{Still am. When they remember how cocky I was when I hooked up with Stormy -- and you know that normally I'm not that good at hiding my feelings for long periods of time -- they're bound to think that my contrition now is a sham.}"

"{That's just not true!}"

"Oh chère, {you are a dreamer.}"


Rémy finished his account, and, after digesting it, Ororo at last said: "It is a good thing that it's finally out and that we can talk about it. For you, for me, for all of us." Her voice, however, was not untroubled. "I wish there was a way of persuading everyone that you've become a different man from the one you were and that you've earned your new chance."

Gambit guessed to whom she was referring: "But you can't speak for the Morlocks on dis."

"No. I can't speak for the dead, and I can't speak for all survivors. Some of them would never be able to forgive you if they knew. They have been badly maimed, they have lost loved ones and dear friends. And Morlock justice does not know suspended sentences. I don't know if I could protect you if your involvement with Sinister became widely known."

"Ah wouldn't want you to, Ororo, ah can defen' myself."

"Can you really, Rémy? We know the remorse you feel for what you did. If some survivor of the Massacre, maybe someone who was wounded or had lost someone close to them, came at you and would not desist until they were killed themselves, what would you do?"

Gambit remained silent.

They both knew what would happen.

Storm spoke up again. "I can't force the Morlocks to forgive you, but the X-Men still consider you their own, even Warren. No one is going to hear tales about you from us. If you want to come back to us, you'll be welcome anytime."

"Non, chère, not at the moment. Ah like bein' with the Meddlers."

"Even though you see Rogue with Magneto every day?" Storm wondered.

With a mixture of sadness and resignation he said: "Je ne suis pas jaloux. Rogue an' Rémy was a dream. It might have been more if ah'd been more open with her. But I let the crucial moment pass, an' we split up. She loves Magneto, an' as long as he treats her right, I am content."

"You're a good man, Rémy."

"Just a pragmatiste," he smiled self-deprecatingly, "when I be acceptin' her liaison with Magnus, she is still my friend, if I didn't accept it, she would hate my guts. And if she won't be my lover, friendship is better than nothing." Storm knew that there was more to it than that and put her hand to his cheek. "But enough of Rémy," he went on, "tell me about what happened to you, Stormy."

"Don't call me Stormy," Ororo said automatically, and they both grinned.


Professor X and Magneto were still deep in conversation, when there was a knocking at the door, quickly followed by Rogue's entrance into the room.

"Hope ya don't mind me joinin' you, Charles," she said, before kissing Magnus on the cheek and adding: "Met Rémy on the way to the lodge."

"Had a nice hen night?" Magnus asked, noting with a smile how peppy she still appeared.

"It was great," she replied. "Oh, before ah forget, Trish invited us for a little get-together after the honeymoon. Ah told her how much you would've liked to get to know them better." Everyone in the room knew, of course, that Rogue had somehow ... anticipated Magneto's wish in that respect.

"Okay," said Magnus, failing to keep from batting an eyelash.

"It'll be fine, honey," Rogue said, sitting down on the armrest of Magnus' chair and ruffling his hair, "trust me! And stop grinnin' Charles. Just 'cause ah occasionally get Magnus to do something he didn't think of doin' 'cause he is too focused on the main issues don't mean ah run his entire life..."

"Calm down, Rogue, I was only laughing because of the face he made."

"No, I'm sure it'll be fun," Magnus reassured his mate, "and it's always easier for me to deal with smaller numbers. Any idea who else will be there?"

"Trish is thinking of invitin' Warren and Charlotte," said Rogue, "which should be interestin' what with how he feels 'bout you and Trish both..."

"This is beginning to sound more like an armistice talk than a quiet evening with friends!" But Magnus winked at Charles as he said that.

However, there was another knock at the door at that moment, and in stepped Val Cooper. She was carrying her pumps in her left hand, evidently glad no longer to be wearing them. "Saw the light is still on, so I thought I'd say good-night... Oh, you have guests, Charles. Sorry to interrupt."

"Have a seat, Valerie," said Charles Xavier with a quiet smile. "Your daughter and son-in-law are already here."

"Hello, Valerie," said Magneto. He still felt a bit strange addressing her by her first name -- he could not forget that she was a federal official -- even though she was the life-partner of Rogue's surrogate mother. "Rogue tells me the party was enjoyable?"

"It was for her. She did not have to take part in a song-and-dance routine!" Dr. Cooper sank into a fauteuil, dropping the shoes on the floor beside her. She sighed comically. "The things a girl has to do when she joins the extended X-family, Charles."

Professor X chuckled, and Magnus joined in. Rogue said: "Ah thought you did very well, considerin' how little time you had to rehearse."

"Well, maybe it was a good thing after all that Raven couldn't come. My distinct lack of progress as a dancer has been quite a source of frustration for her whenever she takes me out..."

"She'd be just as frustrated with me," said Magneto with a smile. "Somehow, I lack that talent."

"You probably just never took the time t' try and learn," said Rogue, "always busy tryin' to make the world safe for mutants to live in."

Shortly after that, Rogue and Magneto took their leave, glad to spend the night in the gamekeeper's lodge they regarded as their real home, even if the reorganization of the now kept them away from it most of the time. Charles Xavier turned to Valerie Cooper: "Please stay a little, if you want."

"Don't mind if I do, Charles," she said, slipping into the chair next to him. "So, I expect you had a very serious conversation with Magnus while everybody else was enjoying themselves?"

"If you put it that way, I suppose you're right, Valerie. And you, feel like adding something serious before you go to bed?"

"Heavens, no! I get enough of that in our official conferences. No, now I'm only staying for the small talk and the gossip." She winked at him. "No, actually, I feel a bit better now after talking to Ororo and Rogue. And it was nice to see Magnus. With the new formations I don't get to see him and Rogue as often as I used to."

"Well, they're very happy together, so much is obvious." Charles noticed Val's energetic nod at that remark. "You've grown very fond of her, haven't you? Magnus just told me she sometimes even calls you 'dad'?"

"That's just a joke between us," she replied with an almost embarrassed giggle, "If anyone has earned the right to be called Rogue's father, it is you, Charles. You took a great risk to give her a chance at a new life, going against the wishes of the X-Men."

"You don't have to butter me up, you know."

"No, I'm seri--. Damn. I said I didn't want to be serious, didn't I?" They grinned at each other. "But you know what I mean."

"Well, thank you for the sentiments." Charles courteously replied. "Now on to small talk. I hope everything is all right with your and Irene's accommodation?"


Trish Tilby unlocked the battery of locks and chains that secured the front door of her Manhattan apartment. She exhaled loudly, relieved to deposit the big carrier bag full of presents onto the coffee-table, to kick off her shoes and to fling herself onto the sofa. She was just settling down to relax a bit, when the doorbell rang. She got up grumbling and went to the door. "Who could possibly come now of all times. Oh, it's you, Hank!" Her face lit up.

"Fair Patricia, I hope my unscheduled evening call does not put you in any inconvenience?" the indigo-furred X-Man inquired.

"No, of course not, love," she replied, kissing him on the cheek, "come on in, I'll make us cocoa, then we can really relax."

"Are you suffering from bachelorette party fatigue?"

"Not as much as some of the others, I rather suspect. Amanda performed a skit with Valerie and Charlotte, they must have spent some time rehearsing in the afternoon."

Trish began preparing the two mugs of hot cocoa as Hank crouched down on the kitchen table after crossing the roam in a series of somersaults and cartwheels.

"All I had to do was sit back and enjoy. The schlepping didn't come till afterwards." Trish was nearly finished, all that remained was to smother his serving with handfuls of marshmallows and chocolate sprinkles, the way he loved it.

She handed him his big mug (which had started life as a half-liter souvenir beer-jug Kurt Wagner had given it to Hank on one of his visits). They walked back to the coffee-table. Hank sat down on the sofa, and Trish happily settled in his lap.

"It's a shame that apart from Amanda all the Excaliburites had to leave before we even got started. And about the X-Factor guys. You know, if I had a nasty suspicious mind, I'd say they engineered their emergencies so they wouldn't have to come to our wedding." She grinned.

"All part and parcel of life's rich pageant with the X-people, I fear," Hank said: "You have to be philosophical about this, m'lady. It's a bit like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: You may be able to tell who are the members of the X-teams at a given moment, but then you won't be able to tell where every single one of them is. Or conversely, if you know where everyone is, you won't know whether everyone of them is an active member of an X-team and of which one. So it is a scientifically proven fact that it is impossible to gather all of us in one place."

"I got the idea of what to expect fairly soon after I became involved with you, Beast of my heart. I had a talk with Amanda about making alternative arrangements after the honeymoon. Oh, and Rogue and I fixed a tentative date for an evening with her and Magne-, er, Magnus."

"So you are making friends with the others," Hank said with a broad smile. "Any other visits scheduled for the next two months?"

"Wellll, Val Cooper seemed interested. But she said she'd first have to see if Raven is amenable. Apparently Mystique really was glad to miss the wedding, although Val assured me it wasn't personal."

"Ho-hum. Well, the prickly Ms. Darkhölme must be doing something right. Dr. Cooper looked positively radiant this afternoon."

"Yes. And isn't little Irene cute? I wonder if our children will look like her..." Trish mused, giving Hank some food for thought inadvertently. "Anyway, how was your stag night, Blue?"

"Oh, it was... enjoyable. Nostalgic memories of the old days at the Coffee A-Go-Go, a roast, lots of food and drink, the typical trappings of male bonding."

"Did they hire you a stripper?"

"No, apparently Captain America insisted there wouldn't be. And ever since Rick Jones's bachelor party he knows what 'ecdysiast' means, so they couldn't slip it past him this time." Hank hammed up his disappointment and Trish had to laugh out loud at his hangdog expression.

"Oh dear, we had one at my party," she said, "the Wasp had talked Hercules--"

"So that's where he was! Every Avenger at the stag night was puzzled by the Prince of Power's enigmatic absence..."

Trish had risen again and walked over to the stereo. After some searching, she found the CD she was looking for. "Chris De Burgh? Do you have to?" The Beast was no great admirer of that Irishman's 'soppy balladeering', as he termed it.

"You are going to enjoy yourself, Blue, even with Chris de Burgh, I promise." She selected the track and put it on automatic repeat.

Dennis is a menace
With his 'Anyone for tennis?'
And beseeching me to come and keep the score...

the singer's voice began.

"Henry P. McCoy, if your friends let you down on the night before your wedding, I guess it is up to me, your bride, to provide the ecdysiastic entertainment to which you're entitled." The petite journalist began to sway to the music.

...Her name is Patricia,
She calls herself Delicia,
And the reason isn't very hard to see...

Slowly and deliberately she undid the tight black mini-skirt and flicked it aside. Beneath it she wore briefs made of some shiny and translucent graphite-colored material. Hank sat straight up in his seat as she started to unbutton her shirt.

...For Patricia (or Delicia)
Not only is a singer,
She also removes all her clothing,
For Patricia is the best stripper in town!
And with a swing of her hip
She started to strip,
To tremendous applause
She took of her drawers,
With a flick of her lips
She undid all her clips,
Threw it all in the air
As everybody stared,
And as the last piece of clothing fell to the floor
The police were yelling out for more,
On a Saturday night in nineteen twenty-four!

Trish Tilby's moves may not have been as expert as her professional namesake's, but her enthusiasm was unmistakable and well-appreciated by her dumbstruck fiancé. She finished by leaping naked into his arms. "Did you like it?" she beamed.

"Well, that is one Chris De Burgh song I won't mind you playing more often." Due to the wolf-like set-up of his teeth, people who did not know the gentle superhero might have mistaken his big smile for a leer. "But obviously only when we're alone."

"Obviously," she smiled back at him.

Roaming over her closely and charmingly displayed skin, his eyes fell something unfamiliar. "Is that a real tattoo?"

"Course not, it's a decal," Trish giggled. "Martha had a few made for me. Thought you'd get a kick out of them."

"Hmm. 'Hirsute mutant academics constitute superior paramours'? I don't really talk like that, do I?" The two lovers fondly gazed into each other's eyes. "Well, I'll thank her tomorrow. But in the view how this evening is turning out, it is a good thing your sister is not here with us at the moment."

They kissed deeply. "Rather considerate of her that she did not crash with me for once." Trish replied. And that was the last coherent sentence heard in the apartment for quite a while.


"Now that's what I call quality time," sighed Bobby Drake. He lay spread-eagled on the huge bed in the master bedroom (or should that be mistress bedroom?) of Emma Frost's Manhattan penthouse, tired but happy. They had meant to spend a quiet evening together but, as sometimes happens (especially if it is a month since the last similar occasion), they had been somewhat carried away. Bobby surveyed the rumpled blue silk sheets, smeared and splattered in Vaseline, honey and chocolate sauce. Some people would consider the crushed pineapple and whipped cream a bit too much. Somehow, it had seemed an appropriate addition at the time. "Do you think the Boysenberry stains will go out?"

The White Queen smiled. She still was known as that to the X-Men and her students, even though the Lords Cardinal of the Hellfire Club had chosen Siena Blaze to fill that position in April. To say nothing of the fact that she was wearing black leather just now. Avoiding the twin perils of slipping on the banana peel on the ground and bumping her head against the swing suspended from the ceiling, she was untying the knots of the bonds on Bobby's ankles and wrists. "Too bad we don't have the time to spend a night together more often," she said.

Some of their hungers had been satiated by their lovemaking, but now she was looking forward to the inevitable aftermath, the cuddling, the talking, the continuing journey of mutual discovery that had haltingly begun last year and which they now undertook with greater confidence. As Bobby rose from the bed she shed the strips of leather she was still wearing, which left her as naked as he. Hand in hand and almost innocently they left the 'battlefield' and walked to the hot tub next door. "At times like this," he grinned, "I must say it is most gratifying that the richest woman in New England chose to be my girlfriend."

*Makes it almost worth the inconveniences of being with a telepath for such long periods of time?* She gave him an ironic smile. *A mind-witch from whom you can't hide your darkest desires...*

"...so that she'll fulfill them? Oh, not even the luxury of this bathroom can get me over the memory of those ... horrors!"

He smirked for an instant, but when they slid into the warm water, the mood changed. For all the innuendo, it was now mainly a matter of getting the ablutions over with (rubbing each other's back did not lead to anything more). And then they just stretched out in the bubbling water of the whirlpool, Emma snuggling up closely to the embrace of Bobby's arms, her cheek against his as they alternated between discussing the day's events and periods when the would sit in silence for minutes, just hugging and listening to their hearts beating.

Not surprisingly, their conversation eventually turned to their own relationship and the question of its permanence or lack thereof. "I'll be the best man tomorrow, Em," Bobby mused, "and that somehow makes me wonder where we are heading.?"

It was not an easy question, and he himself was by no means sure of what the proper answer was. Granted, his relationship to Emma seemed to have achieved a surer footing than his previous romantic involvements, but he had not managed to put away all his self-doubts. He was certain that he was in love with the platinum-blonde telepath, and he did not see the fact that she was four years older than him or even her criminal past as insurmountable obstacles. Still, in spite of the progress their relationship had made, he secretly feared it still would take years until they could seriously think of marriage.

Maybe Emma thought the same, but she stressed some extraneous reasons why they could not marry, perhaps in order not to venture on the thin ice of their personal insecurities. "It might be a bit risky for the school," she said. "You know why we decided to maintain its low profile when your half of the X-Men went semi-public. With an ex-X-Man among our former students and an X-Man's sister among our current ones," she was referring to Jubilee and Husk, "we should perhaps not overdo the X-Men connections at the moment. People might ask questions."

Even though part of him was relieved, another part of him was dejected. For all his doubts about the wisdom of entering matrimony with Emma soon, it still was the kind of expectation to which he had been raised by his parents.
"Oh, cheer up, Bobby! Things will work out. Where's that indomitable Drake optimism?"

He gave her a melancholy smile. No, he thought, it is not that we lack confidence in each other any more, we still have to face something in ourselves. Or maybe we actually have overcome the essential problems, and whether or not we have a marriage certificate is not as important for us as it was for mom and dad? "When you think about it," he spoke, "we are clearly a couple. If we did get married, what would it change for us personally?"

"What indeed? I love you, Bobby," her blue eyes looked deep into his brown ones, "I honor you -- most of the time..."

Bobby chuckled: "You're not likely to obey me any more even if we were married..."

Her lips curled: "And with my body I definitely worship thee."

They kissed. 'The feeling is mutual, Em,' Bobby thought without shields. He did not want to interrupt this. 'But maybe we should wait with continuing to worship one another with our bodies until tomorrow.'

*X-Men! Humph, you think of one thing only,* came her telepathic rejoinder, but her eyes twinkled.

After the bath, they slipped on old T-shirts and sat down in the kitchen for cocoa and herbal tea before retiring to bed. Of course the big bed was in no state to be slept in, what with the damp spots and the wreckage of the evening, so they went over to the smaller bed. It was in the room that originally had been a spare bedroom for guests, but which now was furnished as Bobby's.

Huddled together they lay in the dark as Bobby remembered stories from the early days of the X-Men. Emma listened as he told her about he had become friends with Hank, about their extracurricular activities, of the enjoyment they had with Warren and the others in more innocent times. Of their friends from the Coffee A-Go-Go, of practical jokes that had misfired, of the support they had given each other when things had gone rough and it seemed so hard to go on. "It really is a pity you're going to wait for the party after the honeymoon," he said. "It would be so much nicer if I could have you with me at the ceremony tomorrow. Are you sure you won't reconsider?"

"Bobby, it's like I said, I'd rather not risk compromising the position of the Academy. But I'll can be with you 'in spirit' if you want and you'll let me?"

"I guess half a loaf is better than no bread." And with that, they fell asleep.


In the Northeast of England the sun had already risen around that time. The grey Northumberland sky could be seen through the class roof of The Galleries.

"Snee -- several hostile paraforms imminently arriving, mother."

"Don't call me that, lizard, how often..." the Technet's disgruntled leader thought better of it. "Who are they, and where are they coming from?"

Scatterbrain and Thug stopped what they were doing (going through the wares of nearby stores in the shopping centre) and looked curiously towards Gatecrasher.

"Stop gawping," she admonished them, "trundle along and gather the others. I'm afraid there may soon be call for some violence."

The two rushed off. "Avast, ye spavined churls, 'tis time to quell some foemen together," Thug could be heard bellowing in the distance.

Numbers, Technet's lumbering accountant came around the corner. "Possibility of rational negotiations, hopeful query?"

"Not bloody likely, ya big blouse," Ferro2 spat out his contempt for his team-mate who was a great deal less of a fighter than you would think seeing his big, sharp claws.

But before the intergalactic bounty-hunters had fully assembled, the glass dome above them shattered and a huge red flaming bird-shape descended into the mall. On landing, it discorporated, revealing a young woman in a red leotard decorated with spiky studs. She was accompanied by a handful of passengers: one half-wolf, two young more women (one dressed in blue, the other in green), a dark-haired man in a grubby trenchcoat and a blue-skinned, long-tailed being with not enough toes and fingers. All looked as if they were spoiling for a fight, but Nightcrawler stepped forward to parley first.

"What is the meaning of this, Gatecrasher?" he asked. "You had better come quietly, or there's going to be a lot of trouble for you."

Gatecrasher drew herself up to her full height, towering over the Excaliburites. Kurt Wagner could not resist a quick half-whispered remark to Kitty Pryde: "You're right, she does look rather a lot like Helmut Kohl with a coat of blue paint."

"Salutations," Gatecrasher began, rather indignant at Kurt's lack of courtesy, "we have information that two unauthorised inter-dimensional travellers, paraforms designated Hawk and Dove are hiding out in this town, and it is our task to apprehend them to be delivered to the Omniversal Mastrex."

"That does not give you the right terrorize this town!" Shadowcat shouted out as more and more members of the Technet arrived and nonchalantly began to form a ring around Excalibur.

Gatecrasher was unimpressed: "We had no option, dear girl. The local sentients were extremely uncooperative."

Which is hardly surprising, given that Hawk and Dove have never been to this Washington, you nit, thought Kitty. They're working with X-Factor at the moment. But before she had a chance to say anything, Gatecrasher decided she had talked enough: "Technet, subdue them!"

The alien warriors advanced towards the six superheroes, when suddenly more glass shattered and Captain Britain made his appearance. It did not come entirely unexpected -- his absence among the group on the floor had been noted -- and Joyboy had been hovering out of sight ready for an ambush. But just as he was pouncing on his intended prey, he was himself surprised by the unlooked-for intervention of Cannonball, who collided with him and hurled him out of the building in a high curving arc. Gatecrasher's plan to overwhelm her opposition in a quick rush had emphatically run into its first snag.

V: Get Me to Avengers Mansion On Time

"Rise and shine, sleepyheads!" Charlotte Jones's voice, clear as a bell, roused them from their slumber.

Hank reluctantly unglued his eyes. His lids slowly rose to reveal the detective's pleasant face. Her lips spread in a wicked, but not unfriendly grin. She drew back the curtains and he groaned: "Stars and garters, Charlotte, how can anybody look as fresh as you do after last night?"

"Hank, honey, I'm a police officer and a mother, it's a natural adaptation. We had to learn to do without sleep or perish!" She had known Trish for years, from when she first went out with Warren, back in the days of the old X-Factor. Now she was here to help the bride get dressed. "Trish, your sister rang and said she'll be arriving here about 15 minutes late, but we still should be able to stay within schedule."

"Oh joy," groaned the bride.

Hank started to wrap the blanket around his midriff, when he suddenly became aware of what that was doing for the equally naked Trish. "Ooops."

Trish playfully slapped him and quickly dove back under the cover. Charlotte giggled and turned to leave the room so the embarrassed couple could 'get decent' in private. "At least you didn't see your lovely bride's wedding dress before the ceremony, Hank," she added as she closed the door behind her.

Trish relaxed visibly and lay back as her groom hurriedly slipped on his blue trunks. "And the top of the morning to you, dear," she said, clearing her throat.

"Good morning, my love," Hank replied, putting a peck on her cheek. "Well, that's one nuptial superstition shot to pieces..." he mumbled as he rose.

"Lucky for us we're not superstitious, my blue-furred scientific genius." Trish smiled, and the pretty dimple to the right of her mouth appeared. She was reluctant to let him go and still held on to his right hand. Slowly she lifted it and pressed it to her cheek. "Well, you'd better hurry along. Don't want to keep the best man waiting..."

Hank leaped onto the window sill (no time to wait for the elevator) and blew kisses to the two women before he left: "Until we meet again before the altar! Fair Charlotte. Delicia my love."

And off he was on his way down to the street.

"Delicia?" Charlotte asked Trish, "what is all that about?"


Bobby was amused when he learned the reason for his friend's tardiness. He smirked: "Well, at least you didn't see her in her dress..."

Hank rolled his eyes. "Don't you start," he groaned, "and anyway, Charlotte already made that joke."

After Bobby had finished chuckling the two settled down to put on their tuxedos. Henry McCoy and Robert Drake had been friends ever since the early days of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, when they had been the oldest and youngest of Charles Xavier's original five students. Their friendship was probably the closest among that tightly-knit quintet. Their temperaments were very compatible -- they were more extrovert than the other three and they had a similar sense of humor. Hank was not quite as given to practical jokes, but both could easily extract humor from a situation, and both were able to turn themselves into the butt of their own jokes. Both also had seriously tried to retire from superheroing at one point in their career, to make a life of their chosen academic field. (By now Bobby really had given up accountancy though, while Hank continued to do scientific research between missions.) So no one had been surprised when Hank had turned first to Bobby when he looked for his best man, or when Bobby immediately accepted.

Now they were standing in front of a big mirror, wrestling with their bow ties.

"Apropos nothing at all, my dear Robert," Hank said, "I must say how grateful I am you became involved with the pulchritudinous but somewhat controversial Ms. Frost at the time my lady love and yours truly announced our engagement. It served magnificently to distract the Tilbyphobes' attention."

"What? I thought you decided to get married to Trish to draw the heat off me and Emma! Do you think there's still time to call off the wedding?" Bobby tried hard to look ingenuous making this foreseeable reply to his friend's tongue-in-cheek comment. But he failed miserably and his mirth exploded in a loud guffaw. Hank too was infected by the laughter, and so they had to start afresh on their ties.

"Seriously, Robert," Hank began again, trying to put his feelings into more direct words, "I want to thank you. You always were a good friend in this. There were times when you had more faith that things would work out 'twixt me and Patricia than we did ourselves..."

"Aww, you're embawwassing me!"

"And if you hadn't spoken to Trish after I became furry and smart again..."

"...you'd still have gotten together again, just maybe a little later. C'mon Hankster, I've not always been the world's greatest expert on romantic relationships..." Hank had to grin at Bobby's understatement about his consistently bad luck in affairs of the heart (at least before his current romance with Emma Frost), "...but even I did not take more than a couple of months to realize you guys are ideal for each other. I was glad to help you along, but I think once Trish made up her mind she really was in love with you, you didn't stand a chance anyway. Your wife-to-be is a very determined woman."

"That she is. But thanks for being our friend in this nonetheless." Hank sighed. "We can use our friend to get through this bothersome ceremony..."

"Hank, why are you doing this? Why didn't you and Trish just elope?"

"Because so few other high-profile mutants are likely to get married in the foreseeable future," Hank replied, not so much as the fun-loving and sometimes harried Beast, but as Dr. Henry P. McCoy, scientist and well-known spokesman on mutant affairs. "Believe you me, my delectable bride and I would have preferred to hold it with friends and family only, in Salem Center, but we have to show the world that we are proud of what we are doing. People who speak up publicly for mutant equal rights expect it, they have to face mutiphobes every week, they want to see something like this. It would have been nice if Warren and Charlotte had relieved us of that responsibility, but unfortunately Warren is not yet quite ready for officially sanctioned matrimony, and the cream of your coffee has good reasons to shun all publicity."

Flashback: From the transcript of the broadcast of 21 August 1998 Rick: "The first of our two guests is another former inhabitant of Avengers Mansion, renowned scientist Dr. Henry McCoy, better known as the bouncing Beast."

Marlo: "And with him is his bride to be, Trish Tilby, who is one of America's best-known TV reporters, who unfortunately works for another network."

Rick: "Yes, two weeks ago they announced their engagement to the world, and now they are in our studio. Please welcome Hank McCoy and Trish Tilby!"


Marlo: "Welcome, you two, it was so nice of you to choose our show for your first appearance after the announcement."

Hank: "Thank you for inviting us."

Trish: "Your format seemed more appropriate to the occasion than Letterman's or Leno's. Besides, Rick knows the secret Avengers handshake..."

Hank: "So let the infotainment commence!"

Rick: "Ooookay. Well, those of our viewers who spent the last few years on the Moon probably would have quite a good idea of who Henry McCoy is, but for the convenience of at least some earthbound members of our audience, we have prepared a couple of potted video biographies."

[Two one-minute clips, one about the Beast, the other about Trish Tilby, are shown]

Marlo: "Thanks to Alexander Peterson for putting together the two mini-features. Rick?"

Rick: "Let's start with the simple stuff: Hank, are you still an Avenger?"

Hank: "Once an Avenger, always an Avenger, that's what it says in the contract, as you well know, Rick. But I'm not on active service at the moment. I've returned to the X-Men, while my old buddy, Archangel, has taken my slot in the Avengers roster."

Rick: "I see. But for the wedding ceremony, you are going to Avengers Mansion, I hear?"

Hank: "Yes, it seemed a good place to have it. TV crews won't have so far to travel."

Trish: "Also, it is rather fitting. Hank was an active Avenger when he proposed."

Rick: "And it is a magnificent place. Well, we'll be getting down to the juicy details with Hank McCoy and Trish Tilby in two minutes."


Marlo: "Hi, we're back. So, how did you two love-birds meet?"

Hank: "Well, it is a matter of public record, much as me and my friends might wish it wasn't. It was at the time when we tried to locate mutants who were under threat by getting mutiphobes to call us. We posed as a firm of mutant-hunters, X-Factor, Inc."

Rick: "But wouldn't that also fuel anti-mutant prejudice?"

Hank: "Ah. It seemed like good idea at the time, but I'm afraid my compeers and I had not fully considered all the angles. Unfortunately, we were too easily taken in by Cameron Hodge, our public relations director, who secretly was using our ads and public statements to add to the pre-existing anti-mutant hysteria. Trish then was a journalist at W-ARC TV who reported on the furor surrounding X-Factor, Inc. And she soon developed a habit of showing up at inconvenient times asking awkward questions."

Trish: "I'm afraid I became a bit of a thorn in their side. I could be terribly pushy and undiplomatic then..."

Hank: "You haven't totally lost your touch, princess of my heart. In any case, she was one of the few people who gave X-Factor, Inc. a hard time, but she also helped repair our public image after that scheme unraveled. Unfortunately my annoyance at losing control over events made it all the harder to recognize the irresistible charm and personal excellence of my darling Trish at first."

Trish (laughing): "He hated me!"

Hank: "What can I say? I had been burned by the Fourth Estate before, so at the time I held a rather jaundiced view of those working in the media."

Rick: "A view that a lot of them did much to reinforce, as I can attest."

Hank: "But I'm better now."

Trish: "Thankfully Hank is as smart as he is handsome, and he could overcome his prejudices."

Marlo: "This reminds me: A little bird told me that when you first felt attracted to each other, Hank was not all that smart and he looked rather different than he does now...?"

Hank and Trish (to the camera): "BOBBY!"

Trish: "Yes, I'm afraid it's true. Hank had his intelligence reduced by a virus he contracted in a battle against Apocalypse and his Horsemen. Which proves that you have to be really stupid to fall in love with me, I guess."

Hank: "Imagine everybody's surprise when we did not lose our interest in each other when I became smart and furry again!"

Rick: "Of course the media immediately became very interested in your romance. One of their own -- a TV journalist -- being involved was simply to good an opportunity to miss."

Hank: "Yes, they can be a bit self-referential."

Marlo: "How did you cope with all the publicity? Is it true that the permanent public scrutiny was what caused your break-up one or two years back? At least that is what a number of gossip columnists suggested when it happened."

Hank: "No, it was actually something more serious than that... The crux of the matter was a disagreement about professional ethics which I mistook for a test of personal loyalty."

Marlo: "I was getting to that. When I prepared for tonight's session, I couldn't help noticing that the news of your breakup was not long after Trish broke a big scoop about humans being infected with the Legacy Virus and about the same time as you appeared at a press conference on that subject..."

Hank: "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc?"

Trish: "Humans had been infected before, CNBC's exclusive was about non-mutant humans being infected..."

Marlo: "Sorry. I know it can lead to misunderstandings if you say 'mutants and humans'. But so many people do it."

Trish: "I must admit, in my first reports on mutant affairs I wasn't always 'mutationally correct either."

Rick: "The basic problem is that no-one seems to have come up with a short and non-offensive term for a non-mutant human, quote 'normal' human being."

Trish: "Or flatscan." (LAUGHTER) "Well, Hank could probably come up with a good word if he wasn't so busy saving the world all the time."

Rick: "But to return to Marlo's question..."

Hank: "There were a number of ethical aspects I hadn't really taken into account. To name but one, that of" (grins) quote 'normal' unquote humans who are in regular contact with mutants, notably the doctors and nurses who were looking after Legacy victims and carriers without using proper precautions because they thought themselves immune to the virus. Anti-mutant prejudice had existed long before the news about Legacy broke, so one could not simply ignore the aspect of doing the right thing by those people who fought mutiphobia and stuck by their mutant friends, colleagues, patients etcetera."

Trish: "Hank first told me about it himself, but not told me not to report on it. But that was not because he wanted me to, but because he did not expect me to get the necessary confirmation from a second source. I know that I felt at the time that time was running out, that it would not be long before another station or a paper would find out and break the news to the world. I feared it would then first be reported with a decidedly anti-mutant slant. It was the right thing to do, I wouldn't act differently if I could change the past. But when I consider what happened after that broadcast... there are nights when I can't sleep because I try to think of a way I could have reported it that could not be used as a pretext for such acts..."

Hank: "And sadly some minds are so closed that there ultimately is no way that can be done."

Trish: "We both learned quite a lot from this experience, and it did not happen easily. We both tend to be more self-critical now than we were then. At least we'll know some mistakes to avoid in the future."

Rick: "Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. We'll be back right after the break."


Rick: "Hello, here we are again with Trish Tilby and Dr. Henry McCoy, better known as the Beast of the X-Men, Defenders and Avengers. You announced your engagement after Trish returned from her hazardous assignment in Hammer Bay, covering the crisis that erupted earlier this year in Black Pentecost Sunday. Am I correct that that brush with death made up your mind to tie the knot?"

Trish: "Actually, Hank had already proposed before I boarded my plane to Genosha. And it came as such a surprise to him that I accepted! He hadn't even brought a ring. But it was incredibly romantic. He gave me this, in the end."

[She raises an object suspended from her gold necklace towards the camera. In close-up it turns out to be a university alumnus ring that is obviously too wide for her fingers]

Hank (embarrassed): "Aww, Trish, do you have to?"

Trish: "He wanted to buy me a 'proper engagement ring' later, but I insisted on keeping this one."

Rick: "Really? Sounds like some bargain for you, Hank."

Hank: "Well, I bought her the earring she's wearing, which wasn't cheaper than the ring I had envisaged..."

[The camera pans to Trish's left earlobe, where a sapphire sparkles in the studio lights.]

Marlo: "That is a pretty one! Trish, you've covered many a story over the years, now you are the subject of headlines yourself. Any comments about seeing newsmaking from both sides?"

Rick: "I guess there are times when you can empathize with Hank's original attitude to the media?"

Trish (grins): "Yes, that he would get involved with me in the first place is an even greater mystery to me than ever before! No, seriously, it did not really change my view of my fellow journalists' work. I knew what to expect, in general. I did have to revise my opinion of individual colleagues. Some of my more distant acquaintances, covered Hank and me in an unexpectedly sensationalist and hostile manner. A smaller number suprised me by reporting on us more fairly or more sympathetically than I had expected."

Marlo: "So you don't mind that your romance is under so much public scrutiny now?"

Trish: "I did not say that -- it was just not unexpected. It can be trying at times, there's no denying that."

Marlo: "And how do you feel about it, Hank?"

Hank: "Well, I had experienced intensive media coverage even before Trish chronicled the activities of X-Factor. The Avengers are after all probably the super-team that receives the most thorough treatment from the media. I think I'm really not bothered by about 90 percent of what is written and said about Trish and me. I hope that so much of it appearing in the gossip columns means that at least some of the readers and viewers are beginning to see that mutant celebrities are not that different from others."

Trish: "On the whole, the reactions from the public were great. I mean, we did get our share of hate mail, let's not sweep that under the carpet. But we got a lot more letters from well-wishers. Of course, the echo to the news of our engagement also made me realize just how many female admirers Hank has."

Marlo: "Yes, I recall the headlines. 'Most Eligible Bachelor Avenger Is Off the Shelf'"

Trish: "Hank got hundreds of letters and emails pleading with him to reconsider..."

Rick: "Well, he did finish as winner or runner-up regularly whenever People Magazine or the tabloids had their 'sexiest male Avenger' poll. And didn't Playgirl ask you to pose for a centerfold?"

Hank (somewhat embarrassed): "I'm afraid they did ask me to pose au naturel. A year ago."

Rick: "Hmm, pretty much everybody seems to get offers for posing in the nude. What about you, Trish?"

Trish: "Playboy. When they did a 'Women of TV' photo feature. But I refused. Would you believe they offered me only half of what they offered Hank? And he walks around half-naked most of the time anyway!"

Marlo: "Some guys have all the luck. I really seem to have missed the boat on that one. Of course my chances of making some real money in that department were spoiled when The Naked Truth dug up that old nudie film..."

Rick: "Achem. Well, this may be a good moment for another commercial break."

Crowds of well-wishers, camera teams and journalists were gathered on the sidewalk in front of Avengers Mansion and at the side-entrances on 70th Street. The press was all the worse because the wall around the grounds was freshly painted Some of the onlookers who had arrived too late had climbed on the trees in Central Park, across 5th Avenue to catch a glimpse of those attending the wedding.

Inside, the Public Conference Room had been transformed into a makeshift wedding chapel. Jarvis was making the final checks on the flower arrangements and other decorations while Warren, Jean and Scott were showing arriving guests to their seats.

"Good morning, Professor," Warren said as Roberto Da Costa wheeled him in along the gallery. The other ushers approached to greet him.

Charles Xavier was looking well, almost beaming. In many ways, he still thought of his original five students as surrogate children, and so he was filled with understandable pride on this occasion where one of them entered an important new phase in his life and in the process generated headlines that were, in the main, positive. He took his place in the front row on the groom's side, next to Hank's parents.

The bridegroom and best man were sitting near the head of the room as the guests filed in. Bobby was fidgeting, nervously checking which ring was in which waistcoat pocket for the third time since their arrival. "Relax, Robert, it's the groom who's supposed to be a bundle of nerves on the wedding day."

Nearby, the official wedding photographer was getting his equipment ready. "Excuse me, Mr. Parker," Jarvis approached him, "would you know by any chance if Master Spider-Man will be attending? We sent him an invitation via his electronic ID card, as we did to all reserve Avengers, but he did not respond to the R.S.V.P...."

"Oh, how thoughtless of, er, him," Peter Parker replied. "I guess he must have been too busy to send you a letter. But that's just a guess. I mean, I've taken my share of pictures of him, but that doesn't mean he takes me into his confidence."

Behind the door at the other end of the central aisle, in the dining hall, the bridal party was getting ready. The matron of honor and the bridesmaid, were making final adjustments to Trish's wedding dress and to their own gowns. A little to the side, Mary Jane Watson-Parker coached her three-year-old daughter on her duties as the bride's flower girl, kissed her and left to go to take her seat in the audience. Years ago, Trish Tilby had met her husband when they were both covering the NATO Metapowers Conference in Hamburg; not long after her return to the States, she had met MJ herself when they both were guests on David Letterman, and they had become friends.

"Let's see -- old, new, something borrowed..." Charlotte checked the inventory, "you got something blue, Trish?"

"You mean apart from Hank?" Martha interjected with a giggle.

Trish simply smiled and pointed to her earring. "Well, I guess it's showtime. Dad?"

Paul Tilby took his eldest daughter's arm, then turned to the little girl: "Okay, Marygay, you go in front, just as at the rehearsal yesterday."

Martha held open the door for the others, and then brought up the rear of the group as it walked up the aisle towards the waiting bridegroom, best man and minister. The little brunette girl at the head soon overcame her initial shyness and sauntered across the red carpet, enjoying her moment at the center of everyone's attention. She beamed at her mother and father, once she discovered where they were.

Val Cooper's Diary Friday 10/2/98, sunny: Guido, Irene and I were among the first to arrive, Met Quicksilver carrying an empty paint-bucket -- he had just repainted the compound wall and said: "They're going to have hard times enough, at least on their wedding day they should not have to look at graffiti saying 'Die, Mutant, die!' or 'Hang the mutie-loving slut!'." Quite a good turnout considering how many could not come either b/c it was a public event or b/c they were out on missions. Larger contingents from the Avengers, FF & (official) X-Men, just Guido & me from X-Factor, Amanda from Excalibur. The service was simple and didn't last very long. The couple's parents seemed to be very happy with everything, even though neither of the four were used to the publicity. The media were excluded from the actual ceremony, Hank & Trish just went out on the steps before the front door for pictures and to wave to the crowd outside. Afterwards there was a rather tasty wedding luncheon. Nice conversation at my table w/ Captain America, She-Hulk, Sunspot, & the Summerses. The speeches, letters & telegrams were mercifully short & in parts quite entertaining. H.McC. in his reminded everyone of those who could not be with us today, naming Moira MacTaggert in particular, & also gave a moving tribute to Wonder Man, who had been one of his closest friends during his first stint w/ the Avengers. On a lighter note, a hairy man referred to only as Bernard the Poet recited a very strange Ode to the Beast's Wedding (w/ gestures & bicycle bell). Then came the informal part of the celebrations, which spread pretty much over the entire ground floor. After Trish & Hank had their wedding waltz, I joined in the dancing myself. Got partnered w/ Bobby Drake. Weird even for me -- conversing w/ both him & Emma simultaneously (they were telepathically linked because she did not attend in person). Later I joined the infants' gathering in the library, where Irene could play w/ the other toddlers present. Young Marygay (daughter of some of TT's friends) and Z'rquon (adoptive son of Johnny & Lyja Storm) were fascinated w/ my belly and kept touching it. The bride & groom left fairly early. Pietro caused some great amusement when he snatched the bouquet in mid-flight before anyone else could get it & within 1 sec. distributed it so that every woman in the room got a flower. "I always found that custom silly", he said. We left not long after H. & T. On the way to the airport I had to keep thinking of my stupid tiff w/ Raven. Irene was a bit annoyed at first that she got to play w/ Guido & not me on the homebound flight. "Mommy's busy writing a poem for Mamma Ray." -- "What's a poem?" But thankfully Guido is wonderful with her, so I could write my anniversary poem for Raven in comparative tranquillity. Irene insisted that she will do a drawing to go with it. In case it becomes illegible in the process, I copy out the poem to my dark blue lady here:

Our life is not a smoothly flowing stream,
Sometimes I think that rapids wait at every bend,
For us idyllic quiet is an idle dream
Because we do not care that we offend.
You are contrary, stubborn as a mule,
My Raven, to my calmness you're a constant threat.
Your antics make me lose my hard-won cool
And then I say things that I soon regret.
We fight, we make up, then we fight some more,
But I'd not have it any other way,
Dishonest meekness would enrage me more,
Your frankness I will cherish every day.
Should sparring be the price that pay we must,
I'll pay it gladly for our loving trust.

VI: Elsewhere. And Somewhere Else Again.

THE DAILY BUGLE --------------------------------------------- New York, October 3, 1998
Federal Superheroes Fight Off Unknown Group
X-Factor against 'Gene Machine' in Arizona By Sylvia McAvity. A hitherto unknown metahuman terrorist group calling itself the Gene Machine was foiled in an attempted raid on a U.S. Army installation near Cottonwood, AZ, yesterday. Elements of the Federal Strike Force X-Factor were instrumental in this clash. The new group was beaten off but managed to escape. Their aircraft was last observed from the ground, traveling north near Needles, CA.
Lieutenant G. Herbert Herne, Jr., the commander of the security detachment at the base at Jebediah's Leap expressed his gratitude for X-Factor's prompt assistance, but went on to criticize them for failing to capture the raiders. A spokesman for the Pentagon refused to speculate about the possible motive for the attack or to divulge details about its target beyond stating that it was "a research facility".

In various eyewitness reports and official accounts, the Gene Machine's numbers were estimated as high as 12 and as low as 6.

At a press-conference on the spot, X-Factor leaders, Federal Agents Forge and Havok stated that they were going to have to analyze their teammates' debriefings and the videotapes from the security cameras before deciding whether Gene Machine was indeed an entirely new terrorist group or whether it was, as some observers suggested, an grouping of known metapowered criminals in new costumes and under a new name. Agent Havok also strongly denied Lt. Herne's charges of negligence on X-Factor's part in failing to bring the criminals to justice, claiming that his team had in-fact been hampered by Herne's 'trigger-happy' detachment.


The Friday afternoon sun was falling through the window to the inner court in the kitchen of X-Factor's headquarters. Little Una was badgering Brian Arsala for another helping of applesauce, and Renata Takamori-Hall was carrying in Bert. Her thirteen-month-old had just finished his nap, but still was in his 'waking phase' between sleep and being awake.

With most of the team off on its mission to the Southwest, and Guido and Val in New York for the Beast's wedding, two of X-Factor's extradimensional 'live-in guests' were minding the shop. Not long before Bert's birth, Ren and Brian, along with Una and their respective spouses, Hank and Dawn (who were also the superheroes known as Hawk and Dove) had been dumped in Washington after a magic attack on them had resulted in an unexpected outcome.
Brian had been a police captain in charge of Washington's Special Crimes Unit in his native reality, but here it proved impossible to cut through the red tape to get him a commission at the Police Department. Luckily X-Factor was more accustomed to cut special deals, so when Hawk and Dove became associated members of the team, 'Sal' was put on retainer as part of the support staff. He now was in charge of security at the team's HQ and its base in Maryland, and he also was called in in cases where a detective could be useful.

Adjusting their lives to the new surroundings and conditions had been quite jarring to the two families, in spite of the similarities between the world from which they had been torn and the one in which they now lived. They had become friends with the members of X-Factor and their associates, but there seldom passed a day when they did not have to think of the relatives and friends they had left behind. It also was very hard to understand a world in which a difference that was largely unremarked at 'home', that between those metahumans who had their powers through an accident of birth and those who had gained them by other means was as important as it was in this dimension, where the genetic 'X-Factor' and the common prejudices against it were so important that their very host team was named after it.

Brian was just filling his daughter's bowl, when a bright unearthly light filled the room. Oh no, not again, he thought.
A column of white-blue light coalesced before the refrigerator, and out stepped a tall, statuesque woman with flowing white robes and long, silky platinum blond hair. Behind her, with scared expressions on their faces, came an eclectic mix of aliens. The most human-looking of these was wearing an old-fashioned coat with tails, and a stovepipe hat.
The woman spoke: "At last we meet. I am Opal Luna Saturnyne, the Omniversal Mastrex responsible for this reality and also the one you came from. Now, where are the entities known as Hawk and Dove?"

Ren was not in a mood to take that kind of overbearing attitude just like that: "Now listen, lady," she began.

"You will address the Mastrex as 'Your Whyness'" one of the woman's followers, a tall and wide alien of indeterminate gender interrupted. Judging by the voice, the blue hippo-like being was female, but who could tell for sure?

"Sycophancy cuts no ice with me, Gatecrasher," Saturnyne scolded her over-eager subordinate. "Young humans, it is essential that Hawk and Dove and their families are returned to Earth-600 straight away. The situation between the Lords of Order and Chaos there has been slowly sliding into a rather unhealthy balance these past four years, and it cannot be tolerated to continue in that way any longer."

Ren looked at Brian. Should she tell this strange woman? She did not look too tough, but even some of the more scary-looking customers among the crowd around her were plainly in awe of her. And did they really have any choice? What if they threatened the children? she thought. On the other hand, wasn't returning home what all of them wanted more than anything?

The queen or whatever a 'Mastrex' was fixed her gaze on Una. "Yes, the reports were correct," she said at last, "a true child of Order and Chaos." She greeted the toddler with an inclination of her head, then turned back to Brian and Ren: "This one, too, is very important. The Unity must return to her native dimension."

One of Saturnyne's flunkies rushed into the room. "Your Whyness, I found them in the electronic memories. They are in a place called Arizona."

Well, the matter is out of our hands now, Ren thought. And Hank and Dawn would at least have more help directly at hand than we do here.


The steady members of X-Factor were sitting and standing some distance away on a mountain slope. Far enough to be out of hearing, but not too far to see if the negotiations between Hawk, Dove, their families and Saturnyne were taking a turn for the nasty and brawling might be required. They and the Mastrex' entourage were eyeing each other suspiciously.

But after a frosty start, the talks went on smoothly. At last, the Halls and the Arsalas walked up to the others. "Well, we decided to return to our own Earth," Dove said.

"Uh, will that be to the time you left, or to today?" Havok wanted to know.

"Today, I'm afraid," said Brian.

"But you'll have been gone for nearly six years!" Polaris, who had become rather fond of X-Factor's extradimensional guests, and quite close friends with Dove, was concerned. "You'd have to make a fresh start all over again."

"That's a chance we'll have to take. But it still means we'll have a chance there." Dawn took Lorna's hand. "I probably could stay here more easily than most of the others, but you know how it is, I'm kinda outvoted. Saturnyne very persuasively argued that our and Una's presence is needed to restore some cosmic balance, and Hank and Ren are so keen to show their son to their parents, and..."

That certainly was true. Hawk had even tried to use the way back to his native dimension through the recently discovered nexus at Crossroads a couple of times, but he had been frustrated, because under normal circumstances the invisible walls between the dimensions were impenetrably strong. Especially for Bert, who had been born in this dimension.

"And in your heart of hearts, you're also saying 'there's no place like home' and clicking your shoes together, admit it," said Brian, causing Dawn to smile.

"We're going to miss you all, that's for sure," said Lorna with a sad smile. "But according to the lady it is where you belong. Damn those Lords of Order and Chaos! They really haven't ever let you lead your lives as you want to, did they?"

"You don't know half of it," said Hank Hall. And so, with a mixture of sadness and joy, they took their leave of each other. Hands grasped hands, people embraced each other, good-bye notes to Guido, Val and the other friends not in Arizona were hastily scribbled down.

The Omniversal Mastrex Opal Luna Saturnyne meanwhile was settling final details with her staff: "I guess I'd better forewarn Earth-600's Captain Britain equivalent about the return of Hawk and Dove. Smythers, could you contact him or her for me?"

Her bespectacled aide checked his files. It took, and his face became, longer and longer. Finally he swallowed. "Um, Your Whyness, er, Earth-600 does not seem to have had one for at least five decades."

"What?!! Why was I never informed?" Her glare fixed on the hapless bureaucrat. Sweat broke out all over his face and scrawny neck. "Well, we may as well rectify that situation. Merlin alone knows what could happen there without a Captain."

"The crisis could result in Armageddon in three years or less!"

"What, Zero Hour in 2001? We must act quickly then. Let's see, who would be a likely candidate... ah, and here's another piece of sloppiness: A cross-time wanderer you overlooked."


"Be that as it may, we might as well deal with that at the same time..."

Alistaire Stuart stood outside on the airfield, awaiting the arrival of the Midnight Runner. At last, the plane appeared above the Northeast quadrant of the nocturnal horizon. The approaching black shape quickly grew larger, made a smart leftward turn and touched down. The hatch opened and out climbed Excalibur's tired band. The massive jet-lag resulting from the Trans-Atlantic 'trip', barely staved back by the adrenaline rush of the fight against the Technet now returned with a vengeance. Nearly every other Excaliburite was unable to stifle their yawns.

"Amanda's been on the 'phone," Alistaire told Kurt, "she wants you to give her a ring back, so you can decide when and how she and Errol will return."

"Does she ...?"

"There was a short report on the BBC news, she saw that in New York." Kurt bounded inside.

"Well, that was an exercise in futility," Brian Braddock muttered, "we went to America for sod all, and now we'll have to arrange extra transport to get Amanda back here."

"Oh, don't be such a miseryguts," said Meggan soothingly. "We managed to see everybody for a whole hour!"

"Besides, I think at least someone's very glad we made this trip," Kitty Pryde added. She inclined her head to indicate Sam and Rahne. The two were lagging behind the others, walking closely together and holding hands.

"Ah, isn't that nice," sighed Meggan, Excalibur's leading romantic, and those with her smiled.

"Well, I wouldn't want to be in Gatecrashers's big boots right now," said Rachel, changing the subject. "Yet another job she and Technet managed to screw up, they get their asses handed to them by us, Saturnyne ends up having to do the job herself -- Saturnyne must be livid!"

"What became of that part of the affair?" Alistaire wanted to know; he well remembered the Omniversal Mastrex from their confrontation during what was known in team lore as the Cross-Time Caper. "Before you took off from Washington, you said that Saturnyne showed up to sort things out. But what happened next?"

"It went off smoothly, from what Unc-, er, Havok told me," Rachel had contacted X-Factor's field leader telepathically during the flight home. "Apparently Hawk and Dove and their families were only too happy to be returned to their home dimension."

"Well, all's well that ends well," said Pete Wisdom, lighting up a cigarette. "Course that still leaves the matter of what's goin'ter 'appen to the Technet. Wonder what punishment ol' Saturnyne will think up for them..."

"Cancellation of smoking privileges?" suggested Kitty helpfully. Then she made a run for it. The others laughed as Pete set off in hot pursuit.

"I'm goin' ta get you, Pryde, and I'll make you sorry you even thought of something so diabolic!"

"Oooh, promises, promises!" his love giggled.

THE DAILY PLANET ---------------------------------- Metropolis, October 7, 1998
California Boy and Girl By Cat Grant. The City of Angels was treated to the sight of two former Gotham superheroes donning new costumes in honor of their new hometown. The Batman's former protégés Robin and Jubilee, who have been living in Los Angeles since they left Gotham three months ago, announced to the world that they will henceforth be known as the Swallow and Captain L.A.

The two made their statement after handing over the leaders of the infamous Orange Square Gang to the police.

"As far as I am concerned, the name Robin is up for grabs again," said the Swallow to reporters. If Batman's new partner wants to spell her name with an 'i' now, that's fine by us."

The Vigilante Formerly Known As Robin made few real changes to his costume except replace the 'R' on his chest with the silhouette of a bird and the green to night blue. This journalist welcomes the fact that in tribute to the local climate Swallow reverted to the bare-legged look.

His partner, the former Jubilee, who first came to public notice a little over a year ago, chose a red-white-and-blue motif with decorative diamond shapes for her new Captain L.A. identity.

Epilogue: Homeward Bound

Our plane begins the landing approach. We are happy to be back in Washington. We, that is the men and women of X-Factor, the Federal Government's mutant strike-force. Havok, our field leader, is piloting with his lady love, Polaris. I'm in the back with what is left of the team after Hawk and Dove decided to accept the offer to be returned to their native reality. Since I'm not in the mood to talk, I do not have someone sitting next to me. Across the aisle, Wild Child and Random are enjoying their conversation; occasionally they break out in raucous laughter that distracts me from my thoughts. But if I complained, it would betray how tired I am. Forge, meanwhile, is busy perfecting some new gadget while Moonstar and Warpath look on.

I wish Valerie was with me. Not to talk to her, but to be close to her, to lay my head against her comforting breast and let her stroke my hair. With her, I relax as I cannot with the others, even if I have grown a little closer to them. Raven Darkhölme is selective, perhaps too selective, in her use the word 'friend' -- of my former and current comrades in arms, I only felt tempted to call St.John Allerdyce -- Pyro -- that, and only after he had been working for me for years. Normally, the word is reserved for those whom others would describe in more intimate terms, for Irene Adler, my departed consort, for Rogue, the girl I chose to be my daughter, and for Valerie Cooper, my wife.

Once again, I catch myself using the 'W-word' when I think of her. Strange, I always contradict Val when she describes our relationship as a marriage, or Rogue, when she half-jestingly suggests we should make it official by some sort of ceremony. I would rather bite my tongue than say 'wife' or 'spouse' out loud when speaking of Valerie and me, but more and more often I think of her in those terms.

In the distance I see the tower of Bethesda Naval Hospital, and soon the plane is in its hangar at our out-of-town base. We get off; the others head for the Forge's underground rail -- Random and Wild Child want to get to their favorite watering-hole ASAP, the others have official business to attend to at HQ. I go to the garage to pick up Val's Lotus. She had left it here two weeks ago, when we had taken off in a hurry to deal with Fenris in Florida. After that mission Forge had dropped us off at HQ, and we hadn't had a chance to drive the car home again. I gratefully sink into the driver's seat and turn the ignition. Now that the others are out of sight, I finally relax.

The problem is, if Valerie really was here, she would do anything but stroke my hair and comfort me. When X-Factor set off on this mission, we did not part on exactly friendly terms. I had not really bothered to hide my relief at not having to accompany her to the Beast's wedding, and Val, with some justification, I'm afraid, was angry. In spite of my shady past and the career difficulties she's having because of our relationship, she is never ashamed to show herself in public with me, and she feels that her mate could make more of an effort to show a smiling face to the world at large. Sometimes she tries to make me feel guilty (we both can be rather manipulative), but looking at the matter with the benefit of hindsight I'm beginning to feel I was wrong this time.

It is not that I would have minded to go to the wedding as such. Hank McCoy I don't know that well, but unlike most of the first wave of the X-Men (and there I include my teammates Havok and Polaris), he has a well-developed sense of humor. I've been aware of his blushing bride since her first news features about X-Factor (not the group I joined, but its now-defunct namesake), and it still fills me with a little pride that I had been quicker to recognize the real Trish Tilby a lot more quickly even than her future husband. While the members of X-Factor wanted to see her as an example of their unimaginative preconceptions about the media. If they thought they could help the cause of mutants by posing as much-publicized mutant-hunters, then it is perhaps not surprising that they thought of Ms. Tilby as an unprincipled newshound with her eye firmly on the cash. I immediately recognized her as a bright-eyed crusader, and I secretly passed her some information I had come across to throw a spanner into X-Factor's works.

I followed her later career with interest, and probably would have enjoyed having a chat with her. Especially as it also would have meant seeing Kurt and Rogue. But the planned occasion was too big for my tastes. Too many of the other guests would have tolerated my presence only because I'm Valerie's lesbian life-partner. They know I originally got into my present job not out of the good of my heart, not from idealism, but for more ... pragmatic reasons; that is why many dislike me. And what would annoy me even more would be people thinking "There goes Mystique. She used to be a wild one, but now Valerie Cooper has house-broken her."

I figured I did not need this kind of grief, and Val and I got into an argument about it. I finally gave in with bad grace. When the emergency that made our mission necessary arose, I rejoiced a little too loudly at not having to go to New York, and Val was quite tight-lipped when X-Factor set off. She's probably still at least a little mad at me.

The fight took more out of me than I let on. At one point I had to quickly fix a broken arm by first morphing into a man with just one arm, and then back, in effect growing a new arm. It worked, but the effort was incredible and the pain was excruciating. Now, as a check in the rear-view mirror, I see a haggard face. I look, if not exactly my real age, but about twenty years older than I normally do. I drive almost as if in a daze. On Wisconsin Avenue, students and tourists seem to be standing or sitting before almost every bar and restaurant. By the look of it they are having a wonderful time, but I am sad and angry with myself for behaving like such an immature jerk to Val. But that is the way we are -- we often have too little patience with each other, and after our tempers flare and we had our quarrel, we reconcile (the best reconciliations happen in bed, but I'm too exhausted to even wish for that kind of thing). As I steer the car from N Street into 30th, I see Axel Draht, the Swiss TV correspondent who lives across the street from us, walking his dog, and stopping at the oak at the corner, as usual. I know our quarrel has not yet exploded, so I can still expect fireworks. I'd better take my medicine like a good little girl.

The lights are on in the living-room as I drive the sports car down into the garage. Valerie must have heard the distinctive sound of the motor and opens the door for me. She is wearing the cornflower-blue dressing-gown with the black buttons that so perfectly complements her straw-blond hair. I halt, my breath is taken away. I feel like a little schoolgirl who's fallen in love for the first time. With the plaited pigtail, the wrinkles in the corners of her eyes and the glow of her incipient pregnancy she is the most beautiful woman alive. No, age shall not wither Val, nor custom stale her infinite variety.

As I step into the light, her chin drops and she gasps. My God, she says, you look like shit! Her concern makes her lose the cast-iron grip she normally has on her language (except when she is really angry with me, or when she goes wild when we have sex). I give her a grin to make light of my fatigue and answer: Missed you too, it got hairy at times. We go into the room, and I see she has set the table for dinner. Irene is still up, she rushes up to me shouting Mama Way, Mama Way! and shows me a drawing she just finished. They have waited for me to be there to tuck her in, to help sing her to sleep. I hug my daughter to me and kiss her all over her face. I am home. I am where I belong.
Later, we dress Irene for bed, tuck her in with her collection of fluffy toys and sing her lullabies. As I put away her daytime things, I see that there's a long poem in Val's handwriting on the back; well, I'll read it later. We return to the living-room and Valerie is all over me. She makes me lie down on the sofa, she runs in a bath for me, she gives me a full-body massage. For her own ease of movement, she takes of her gown. She is wearing nothing underneath, and if I weren't so exhausted I'd find the closeness of her naked skin incredibly arousing. As her strong hands knead my muscles, I just relax and after a while I slowly sink into a trance-like half-slumber, from which I only wake when she stops her ministrations.

As I get up, I no longer feel like death warmed over. Valerie is toweling herself dry -- the massage was sweaty work for her. I can see that her belly is finally beginning to bulge. As she puts the gown back on, she makes no direct reference to our stupid spat. I feel foolish for having thought she would nurse that quarrel. She says: I hope to God that Hank and Trish will always have in their marriage what we have in ours. She is surprised that I don't make one of the sarcastic remarks I usually make when the subject of matrimony is mentioned with reference to us, to see how I am fighting -- with scant success -- to hold back my happy tears. I want to tell her how much I love her, what she means to me, that I am sorry for my behavior, that I want to be with her until our dying day, but as usual when I try to verbalize my feelings to her, I fail miserably after a few dozen words. Valerie understands, and stops my babbling with by cradling me in her arms and pressing her lips onto mine. It is better this way. An embrace can say so much more than a hundred words and a kiss can be so much more eloquent than a dozen paragraphs.


The Name 'Meddlers' was inspired by a line from the movie Brassed Off, where Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) says something like: "When you succeed, you're the big hero. When you don't, you're just another meddler." Marygay Parker got her name because it is different, but also reminiscent of the names of many of her relatives, i.e. May Parker, Mary Parker (Peter's mother), Anna May Watson, Mary Jane Watson-Parker and Gayle Watson Byrnes. I first found the name in Joe Haldeman's The Forever War.
Most of the characters in this story are (c) & TM by Marvel Comics Group; Captain Brian Arsala, Batman, Daily Planet, Dove (Dawn Granger), Gotham City, Maire Granger, Russ Granger, Cat Grant, Irwin Hall, Rae Penfield Hall, Hawk (Henry Hall), Lords of Chaos, Lords of Order, Metropolis, Robin (Timothy Drake), Renata Takamori-Hall, Unity are (c) & TM by DC Comics; Persephone Adler (Rogue's civilian ID), Captain L.A., Irene Cooper, Axel Draht, Bert Hall, Lt. G. Herbert Herne, Stan Learoyd, Sandy McReekie, Meddlers, Jimmy Miller, Marygay Parker, Smythers, Z'rquon Storm, Abigail Summers, Swallow, Martha Tilby, Mr. & Mrs. Paul Tilby, and Errol Wagner are mine. Patricia the Stripper is (c) Chris de Burgh.